The Regional Medical Research Centre (RMRC) in Assam's Dibrugarh has become the fourth laboratory in the country to successfully isolate SARS-CoV-2 virus that can be used for the production of a vaccine against COVID-19, state Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said on Wednesday.
Scientists at the RMRC have isolated the COVID-19 virus in VERO-CCL81 cell line in the BSL-3 level lab available at the institute, he told reporters.
The RMRC is the third government laboratory in the country after the NIV, Pune; and the CCMB, Hyderabad, to isolate the virus.
The other facility to do so is Bharat Biotech, a private biotechnology laboratory in Hyderabad.
The scientists used an immortal cell line VERO-CCL81, derived from kidney epithelial cell lines from green African monkey, which expresses the important ACE2 receptor needed by SARS- CoV-2 for cellular entry, Mr Sarma said quoting the researchers.
"In layman's term, the significance of the COVID-19 virus isolation by the team of scientists from the RMRC, Dibrugarh, is that live and viable SARS-CoV-2 can now be produced in the laboratory in abundance when required," he said.
This is important for the development of a COVID-19 vaccine where the virus grown in a laboratory is inactivated by heat or chemical and purified for use as vaccines after pre-clinical and clinical trials, he said.
Bharat Biotech, in collaboration with the NIV, Pune, which supplied the virus grown in tissue culture, has developed an inactivated COVID-19 vaccine (COVAXIN) which will go for Phase I and II trials starting in July.
The COVID-19 virus, which is just over six-month-old has spread across all human communities and scientists now have detected over 10 strains circulating around the world.
Originally, only two types of the virus were noted, the L-type and the S-type, but the S-type is slowly disappearing.
The RMRC team also developed in April this year an in-house test (TSP-PCR) to detect the L or S type of the virus within three hours, the minister pointed out.
It was found that all strains circulating in Assam were L-type but now scientists have classified the virus into different clades (O, A1, A2a, A3, B, B1, etc) which differ from one another very minutely.
"The A2a clade is now the most dominant across the world, including India", he said.
The ICMR-RMRC, situated at Lahowal in Dibrugarh, has been supporting the state of Assam and other NE states in the fight against COVID-19.
Till now, the centre has provided almost 50,000 diagnostic test reports of COVID-19 for the people of this region.