JNU prof says he was first to suggest BCG vaccine trials for Covid-19 but was ‘turned down’

JNU prof says he was first to suggest BCG vaccine trials for Covid-19 but was ‘turned down’ thumbnail
JNU professor Gobardhan Das | Twitter | @dasgobardhan Text Size: New Delhi: A professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has claimed he was the first to propose the idea of conducting clinical trials of anti-leprosy and anti-tuberculosis vaccines, which began last month, to see if they can prevent Covid-19, but was “turned down”. Professor Gobardhan…
JNU professor Gobardhan Das
JNU professor Gobardhan Das | Twitter | @dasgobardhan

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New Delhi: A professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has claimed he was the first to propose the idea of conducting clinical trials of anti-leprosy and anti-tuberculosis vaccines, which began last month, to see if they can prevent Covid-19, but was “turned down”.

Professor Gobardhan Das of JNU’s Special Centre for Molecular Medicine tweeted on 3 May, saying, “My grant proposal on BCG recombinant vaccine for Covid has been turned down by Indian govt agency citing its a bad idea. Same govt is conducting multiple trials based on my idea.”

The Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine is a century-old vaccine that was developed to treat tuberculosis.

ICMR’s head of epidemiology and communicable disease Dr R.R. Gangakhedkar had on 17 April announced clinical trials of the vaccine for Covid-19 prevention, after similar trials were held in the Netherlands, US, Australia and Germany

The Council of Science and Industrial Research also announced that it would begin clinical trials on the anti-leprosy vaccine called Mycobacterium indicus pranii or MIP, which is a stronger strain of the BCG and is touted as its cousin. 


Also read: Countries with compulsory TB vaccine BCG like India are showing fewer Covid-19 deaths


‘No response’

In a telephonic interview with ThePrint Monday, Das said he first got the idea in mid-March as several other countries had started trials on BCG vaccine for Covid-19 prevention.

Das said he along with five other scientists from JNU, Soochow University in China and the University of Rome undertook a study to analyse Covid-19 data from countries with universal BCG vaccination, those which had discontinued the vaccination and those which had never adopted the vaccine.

The study, which is currently awaiting peer review, found that the “BCG immunisation is significantly correlated with lower incidences and mortality rates due to Covid-19…,” Das said.

He then sent an email to Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan on 26 March suggesting that MIP trials be conducted.

Vardhan responded to him with a single line, saying that he should talk to the ICMR’s Director General Dr Balram Bhargava.

Das then wrote an email to the ICMR head, saying, “…I believe we should initiate a clinical trial of MIP given that four countries (are) starting trials with BCG.”

“For 20 days, there was nothing, then all of a sudden I heard they were doing clinical trials,” he told ThePrint.

ThePrint contacted Dr Bhargava multiple times via phone calls for a comment, but he wasn’t available.

‘Lack of leadership’

According to Das, he had also applied to a government and an international agency for a grant to conduct further research to specifically look at how to make the BCG immunisation specific to Covid-19. Das said he was turned down by the government agency, which he didn’t name.

But the international agency, which he refused to name, agreed to give him $70,000 for the research.

“What I feel is that because of a lack of leadership, we are missing a bigger opportunity. This is the time when the leadership should involve all the stakeholders. I am not just talking about myself. But this is the opportunity for India to save the world and save humanity. Instead, now everybody is fighting each other,” Das said.


Also read: Can BCG vaccine protect against Covid-19? Here’s why the excitement needs to be tempered


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