The DBT is developing therapeutics from natural products in partnership with AYUSH ministry and has screened extracts of over 15 medicinal plants for their anti-viral properties
Modern medicine experts have welcomed the research urging the govt to further conduct clinical trials to establish efficacy
New Delhi: In what may come as a shot in the arm for India’s traditional medicines and AYUSH products, preliminary findings of scientific research on medicinal plants by department of biotechnology (DBT) has shown promising results against covid-19, said Dr. Renu Swarup, secretary, DBT in India’ ministry of science and technology.
The department of biotechnology is developing therapeutics from natural products in partnership with ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) and has screened extracts of over 15 medicinal plants for their anti-viral properties.
This comes in the backdrop of concerns raised over the efficacy of alternative system of medicines in preventing and treating various diseases. Modern medicine doctors have challenged the AYUSH systems owing to lack of scientific research.
“The first round of scientific experiments has been completed and the results look promising. In next two months, more results will be ready to be shared," said P.N. Ranjit Kumar, joint secretary and spokesperson, Ministry of AYUSH.
Modern medicine experts have welcomed the research urging the government to further conduct clinical trials to establish efficacy. "Plants are increasingly being researched against covid-19 world over, and that is welcome. However, these preliminary findings must be confirmed in clinical trials," said Dr Anoop Misra, Chairman, Fortis-C-DOC Centre of Excellence for Diabetes, Metabolic Diseases and Endocrinology.
Professor K. VijayRaghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser, government of India said that antivirals are important frontline defences against infections such as through SARS-CoV2.
“While they can be effective, it is a long and difficult haul to find them. Viruses use our machinery to replicate and a drug that targets only them and not us is not easy to discover. Viruses also replicate rapidly. So, antivirals need to act fast as well as early, before the virus can take over," said K. VijayRaghavan.
“Our medicinal plants and Ayurvedic practises offer a wide and deep area for exploration and testing. Encouraging preliminary results will, I am sure, be taken ahead for rigorous tests. Such exploration will need to be done on a very large scale to fully bring out the value that lies hidden," he said.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has been pushing for AYUSH systems amidst covid-19 pandemic, with the union health of Health and Family Welfare also officially recommending AYUSH systems for managing the coronavirus pandemic.
“Under DBT-AYUSH collaborative programme, studies have been carried out on anti-SARS-CoV-2 activities of selected medicinal plants and formulations in cell culture model of virus infection at Regional Centre for Biotechnology (RCB), Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI) Faridabad and Institute of Life Science (ILS) Bhubaneswar," added Swarup, also a member of the Centre’s National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration (NEGVAC) for covid-19.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March last year had called for substantial scientific studies on possible AYUSH solutions for Covid-19 in order to build faith in the traditional treatments.
“The National Medicinal Plants Board (NMPB) has supplied standardized extracts of 15 selected medicinal plants, which have been used for testing the antiviral potential of these test substances," Swarup said and added, “The in vitro (outside the living) carried out indicated that extracts of Ocimum sanctum (tulsi), Nigella sativa (kalaunji) and Andrographis paniculata (kalmegh) have shown some initial results and promise for further studies in greater details."
The department of biotechnology is also conducting animal studies regarding covid-19 with AYUSH ministry. The MoU relating to the animal study was signed between the National Medicinal Plants Board (NMPB) and DBT and is based on the concept of reverse Pharmacology (PH) which explores the scientific reasoning behind established medical practice like those of Ayurveda.
The research is also billed as India’s first in-vivo anti-SARS-CoV-2 virus study using oral interventions. The four oral interventions are Aswagandha (Withania somnifera), Guduchi(Tinospora cordifolia)-Pippali (long pepper) combination, Mulethi (licorice) and AYUSH-64 (a poly-herbal compound).
“The initial in vivo (within the living) tests have shown promising results with Ashwagandha and Anu oil. The experiments are in progress for detailed studies and results of the formulations against covid-19 will be available after detailed analyses," said Swarup.
This study is being done at the THSTI Faridabad. The sophisticated BSL-3 level laboratories of THSTI are housing these studies, which are being held on hamsters.
“In last few years AYUSH systems have gained huge popularity globally for their efficacy and the rewards they offer. In parallel, the government has also been increasingly investing in robust scientific research in AYUSH disciplines. Evidence from scientific research is now consistently emerging for AYUSH solutions pertaining to management of Covid-19," added P.N. Ranjit Kumar.