BENGALURU: To understand and investigate the inter-relation between coronaviruses in animals and humans in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and to prepare itself better for such future pandemics, India has initiated a pilot research, roping in the top veterinary research and epidemiology scientists and institutes in the country.
“There is no systematic data on the prevalence of coronaviruses in animals in the country. We need to find out to what extent these viruses are present in animals and what is the inter-relatedness between animal and human coronaviruses because Covid-19 is said to have emerged from an animal host,” said Dr Baldev Gulati, principal scientist, ICAR-National Research Centre for Equines, Hisar, Haryana. Dr Gulati is the principal investigator of the time-bound research project — ‘Epidemiological Studies and Development of Anti-viral Therapeutics Against Coronaviruses’— by the National Agricultural Science Fund (NASF) under the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR). The NASF has sanctioned Rs 3.06 crore for this prestigious project.
“We are going to study the prevalence of coronaviruses in animals; the relationship between animal and human coronaviruses and to identify antiviral drug targets, which can be of use for the development of a therapeutic drug for treatment of coronaviruses, including Covid-19, in animals and humans,” said Dr Gulati. “The study will also focus on the epidemiological disease patterns in animals, their zoonotic transmission, that is, whether domestic pets can further transmit coronavirus to humans,” said the senior veterinary scientist.
Hundreds of target molecules are being tested to help scientists identify some key compounds which could be evaluated in laboratory settings to help develop therapeutic drugs for treatment of the coronaviruses in animals and humans.
“If we are successful in identifying the compound, we will collaborate with the industry and medical partners to develop treatment drugs for coronaviruses, including Covid-19,” added Dr Gulati. The research project includes study of coronavirus infections in domestic bovine, porcine (pigs) and wild animals across the country.
The ICAR has designated The National Research Centre for Equines as the lead centre with National Institute of Veterinary Epidemiology and Disease Informatics (NIVEDI), Bengaluru, National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases (NIHSAD), Bhopal, and Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Izatnagar, Bareilly, UP, as partner institutes.
“We have developed a sampling strategy and will soon start collecting samples from different animals. At NIVEDI, the research will focus on porcine samples,” said Principal Scientist, NIVEDI, Dr K P Suresh. For the purpose of research, equine and bovine samples will be collected from Haryana and Rajasthan, porcine samples from South and North-East and samples of wildlife animals will be collected from various zoos in the country.
The research may help in throwing light on the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic and has come at a time amidst rising global concerns over the outbreak of Covid-19 as part of ‘Gain-of-function.’ The GoF is biological research, which is conducted for bio-defence purposes and is aimed at enhancing the virulence and lethality of pathogens and viruses — to infect different species and to increase their deadly impact as airborne pathogens and viruses.