Indian researchers enabling Australian efforts to repurpose COVID-19 drugs

By Our Reporter
L-R: S. Murugesan, Prof S.S. Vasan, Dr Vinti Agarwal

The Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani, one of the first ‘Institutes of Eminence’ in India, has announced a collaboration with Australian researchers who are attempting to repurpose drugs for COVID-19.

The institute’s Department of Pharmacy and Department of Computer Science and Information System will be collaborating with researchers from Australia’s national science agency CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) and its partners including Griffith and Monash universities, Australia, a press release said.

Associate Professor S. Murugesan, a pharmaco-informatics expert at BITS Pilani

BITS Pharmaceutical and Data Scientists will be working together with researchers from CSIRO and the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences to create a unified, annotated and searchable database of compounds held by ‘Compounds Australia’, the country’s sole integrated compound management facility located at the Griffith Institute of Drug Discovery in Queensland.

CSIRO and Australia’s Medical Research Future Fund recently announced an $1.7 million AUD initiatives to use systems biology and machine learning approaches on stem-cell derived panels of human tissues for rapid screening of approved drugs.

Dr Vinti Agarwal, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, BITS Pilani

S Murugesan, Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacy, BITS Pilani, who is an Associate Investigator of the CSIRO’s project, and his

Data Science Colleague Dr Vinti Agarwal as project team member from Department of Computer Science and Information System are looking for research fellows to join this initiative. The project is led by India-origin Professor S.S. Vasan, who is CSIRO’s Project leader for COVID-19 drug discovery research.

It also demonstrates the importance of interdisciplinary approach to research and learning to solve real-world problems for the betterment of entire humanity across the globe.

Professor S.S. Vasan, CSIRO’s Project leader for COVID-19 drug discovery research

According to Vasan, “A great strategy to get to safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 treatments quickly is to repurpose drugs already approved for other diseases. Repurposed compounds can be expedited to Phase 2-3 clinical trials if robust preclinical efficacy data were available. Unfortunately COVID-19 animal models fail to recapitulate the features of human disease; they are also expensive, time-consuming and unsuited for high-throughput screening.

“To overcome this, we need rapid, high-throughput drug screening in relevant tissues grown from ‘stem cells’. We also need to improve the readouts, reproducibility and clinical correlates of such stem cell-derived models through systems biology and machine learning approaches. Let me briefly elaborate on this. We will be developing a screening panel of human stem cell-derived, clinically-relevant (respiratory tract, lung alveolar, cardiac and neural) tissue models, and improve their reproducibility through our Manufacturing capabilities in automation, standardisation and quality control.”

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