Global pandemic coronavirus has literally turned the world upside down, something that hasn’t been witnessed in the past 100 years. Bewildering as it is, there is also hope that humanity may get past this if there is some action taken. The need of the hour is to accelerate testing capacity and tools in developing countries including India as well as increased access to low-cost diagnostics. Along with this the approach to the management of intellectual property rights by research institutions, tech startups, tech companies and R&D funders at this juncture can decisively affect availability, access as well as transfer of technology and know-how.
Dr. Bharat Kale, Scientist G, Director C-MET, Pune informed that Dr. Milind Kulkarni, Scientist-E and a team of scientists working at Pune-based Centre for Materials for Electronics Technology(C-MET)had developed low cost polymer swabs for COVID-19 sample collection, Testing Kits and antiviral protecting masks. In a free-wheeling discussion with CoE-IP editorial team, Dr. Milind Kulkarni on behalf of C-MET, Pune gave a glimpse of the areas where C-MET is working for developing solutions to fight COVID 19 and acknowledged the effort of CoE-IP in fast tracking the process of filing patents for the invention.
1. Let us first congratulate you and the C-MET team on this vital breakthrough in this difficult time. Can you give our readers a glimpse of the technology for this present invention?
• C-MET has developed simple and cost effective prototype of polymer swabs with the help of locally sourced raw materials for sample collection of clinical specimen samples of COVID-19 suspected cases.
2. How effective is the technology considering that India imports polymer swabs and the nationwide lockdown has affected its supply?
• Yes, India primarily imports polymer swabs and testing kits from Italy, Germany, China and the USA. Due to present import restrictions and global lockdown, a shortage of these kits was felt. CMET then initiated the activity urgently.
3. Are you thinking of collaborating with any potential startup or other enterprises requiring R&D support, manufacturing support, facilitation for substantial scale-up?
• C-MET, Pune is discussing with 3 enterprises to ramp up the productions and cater to the increasing demands. Right now we cannot divulge the names but talks are very much on to tie-up with them up for scaling up and subsequent commercialization towards mass production.
• Has the clinical trials started? If yes how effective has been the response.
• ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) -NIV (National Institute of Virology) Pune has tested our prototype swabs and informed that the swab material is suitable and satisfactory for human respiratory sample collection. The prototype is part of the COVID-19RT PCR sample collection and testing kit.
4. How soon do you think the present solution can be scaled up to help other nations in dire need of this low cost technology?
• C-MET has provided polymer rods for large scale trials of swab on automated machines. C-MET is optimistic that once these trials are successful then the process will pave the way for large scale production. Once scaled up this invention can be of immense value to India and other developing countries in need of large scale mobilization of diagnostic kits.
After fulfilling the requirement of country, the supply to other country can also be made possible with the help from our Ministry.
5. Are you considering other R&D technology solutions coming from C-MET that can be re-purposed for use in this times?
• Yes, C-MET is very much in the process to realign solutions for fight against COVID 19. Right now a team of C-MET scientists comprising Dr. Sudhir Arbhuj and Dr. Govind Umarjee have already prepared Nanoparticle coated masks which are antibacterial and antiviral. While the report on antibacterial front had shown successful elimination of bacteria, the report on antiviral strength is awaited. The prototype is ready and C-MET personnel have already started using this mask. To begin with C-MET may supply few of these masks to Doctors.
Nanoparticle coated masks
C-MET now has the technology of nanoparticle coating well supported by international scientific report. The nanocoating can be done on any substrate i.e. polymer, ceramic, glass, metal, cloth etc. Significantly, nanoparticle gel was also developed for Doctors.
6. CMET has just filed a patent application for a COVID-19 related technology solution. How was the filing experience with CoE-IPs Patent Facilitation Centre considering the whole process needed to be fast-tracked and there was extreme sense of urgency?
• C-MET is thankful to MeitY and especially the CoE-IP team for such a quick response. I must say that the response was very good, considering the present crisis. In a matter of just 2 days the prior art search was fast-tracked, applications routed through to the attorneys, necessary approvals obtained and patent application filed with the Indian Patent Office. I am very much impressed with the exemplary professionalism shown by CoE-IP. The patent on nanocoating on mask will be filed after getting report from the virology department.
7. How do you want to use your technology (pending patent) for use by the larger community?
• As Scientists we feel that this technology developed by C-MET should be immediately taken up for low cost production to benefit society in our fight against COVID-19.Masks can be prepared in mass scale. Presently, the cost of the mask may get increased by 2-3 rupees with the nanocoating. With this the spread of corona can be controlled in an effective way. Apart from masks, other healthcare wares like Apron for Doctors, Bed sheets, Curtains, Patient dresses can be coated with these antiviral nanocoating material for hospitals. Wooden, metal tables of offices, railway berths and seats of buses can be coated with these nanoparticles. It will have huge control on spreading of corona. The gel can be used by doctors and all healthcare professionals working in the hospitals. The whole community will be benefitted with this technology. Hope we will be successful in this mission too.
8. To conclude, do you think S&T Institutions can raise their Game against COVID-19 by increased collaboration and sharing of know-how on vital technology processes concerning vital public interests?
• Yes, this is the time most useful for R&D organizations all over the globe coming along and collaborating. The technology developed will be useful to whole world for fighting COVID 19. In future, India will have all technologies at its disposal and will not have to dependon others. The team is very thankful to Director and Director General of C-MET and MeitY officials for their active support and motivation.
(CoE-IP team would like to thank DG CMET and Dr. Kale, Director C-MET for their assistance as also to Dr. Milind Kulkarni for sparing precious time)
C-MET Scientists at C-MET, Pune Lab coating Nanoparticle on masks