The year 2020 would become notorious as the year of COVID-19. Everyone around the world has been affected—from complete country-wise shutdowns, a completely different outlook towards socializing or social distancing, change in working patterns to even a completely new market for personal protective items such as face shields, masks and sanitizers.
As months have passed and the world has not yet come to a complete standstill, the hope for ‘normal’ life would be COVID-19 vaccine.
And whom do we turn to looking for that elusive vaccine? Believe it or not, biotech engineers.
Biotech engineering is a branch of applied sciences that deals with concepts of both biological sciences as well as technology. This field involves studying microorganisms, an understanding of antibiotics and their subsequent synergy. This may be in the form of creating useful chemicals for innumerable applications across industries—even perhaps creating a vaccine that may get the world back to the way it was in the previous year.
Clues from past virus outbreaks
This isn’t the first virus that has had humankind in its tight vice—even though it might look like the one that hasn’t yet been tamed— and it won’t be the last either, unfortunately. The virus responsible for this global pandemic, 2019-nCov family, is a close relative of other coronaviruses that caused the pandemics of SARS and MERS.
When the SARS outbreak happened in 2002, it took about 20 months to create a vaccine suitable enough for human testing. While SARS was far more lethal than COVID-19 is, one major distinction was its quick and unique symptoms. A person affected would get symptomatic within 2-3 days, allowing them to be isolated and contact tracing to be done over the two previous days to limit the spread of the virus.
With COVID-19, however, things are a bit different. Contact tracing is one of the hardest resulting in an uncontrolled spread over two weeks—the period when people appear asymptomatic.
The future of this pandemic
We already into the ninth month (or even eleventh if conspiracy theories are to be believed), and the mad rush to create an effective vaccine is already underway.
This is where the marvel of biotech engineering comes into picture. Biotech engineers specializing in drug and pharmaceutical research are the trailblazers, with the world watching closely and pinning the collective hope of an effective COVID-19 vaccine.
Given that technology is far more advanced now and biotech engineering has come leaps and bounds since any momentous outbreak, it is understood why people are hopeful of a vaccine’s availability soon. The development of a COVID-19 vaccine is currently a global effort of biotech pioneers. What also seems to be working in favour of these biotech researchers toiling away to invent said vaccine is the lower variability of COVID-19 despite having a number of mutations.
What this means for Biotech Engineering
While most industries face a lull and the hiring rates are plummeting worldwide, one industry that seems to have amped its intake is the Pharma industry.Hence, this global pandemic is, ironically, good news for all aspiring biotech engineers.At present, students are being placed into pharma companies working on either supporting the development or actually developing a potential COVID-19 vaccine.
Indian Biotech firms in the race to create a vaccine
The frontrunners in the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine in India, at the moment, are Bharat Biotech with Covaxin and Serum Institute of India’s (SII) Covishield. While Covaxin has received approvals to conduct Phase I and II clinical trials, Covishield is not far behind.
The anticipation of a vaccine that can be accessed by all seems to be the vision of a not-so-distant utopia, especially with the world’s best biotech engineers collaborating to work towards a solution.