India takes lead in TB research under unique mission mode

The first International Scientific Advisory Group (ISAG) meeting was convened on 9th and 10th November in New Delhi bringing together the eminent international and national TB experts from four thematic areas

The Secretary (DHR) and DG, ICMR, Dr Soumya Swaminathan briefing the media on ICMR's initiative with the International TB Research Consortium, in New Delhi on November 10, 2016.

New Delhi: Tuberculosis (TB) is one of India’s severest health crises. It kills two Indians every three minutes and more than 1,000 people every day. India has the highest TB burden in the world. The Global Tuberculosis Report 2016 released in October 2016 by the World Health Organisation updated the estimate of incidence that is, the number of new tuberculosis cases in a year – to 2.8 million in 2015. The updated estimate of tuberculosis deaths, excluding deaths of HIV-positive people, is 478,000 in 2015 and 483,000 in 2014.

The “India TB Research and Development Corporation” (ITRDC), a flagship initiative by ICMR, aims to bring together all major national and international stakeholders to develop new tools (drug, diagnostics, vaccines) for TB. The vision of the corporation is “To achieve Elimination of TB from India by investing in new tools (drugs, diagnostics, vaccines) as well as provide these solutions to the world.”

Elaborating on the initiative, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, DG (ICMR) stated that under the guidance of the Prime Minister of India, TB has been taken as a national priority. The aim is to reduce the incidence of new TB cases by 95 percent and also reduce mortality by 95 percent. She also stated that research will be accelerated to improve cure rates and to accelerate decline in new cases. She added that implementation research will focus on finding and framing strategies to treat TB patients by involving all stakeholders. The aim is to ensure that all TB patients get assured quality diagnosis and treatment.

The initiative has been undertaken after a consensus from the various Government, Non-Government and international research organizations in a high level meeting with officials from MOH&FW, DBT, CSIR, DST, TDB, WHO, Gates Foundation in Feb 2016 wherein all the members agreed to support the Corporation. The concept also has an in-principle by PMO for setting up a new entity. In a few months time the detailed landscape analysis of the national and global leads in four thematic areas namely diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics and implementation research has been done and most advanced leads have been identified for taking forward. The first International Scientific Advisory Group (ISAG) meeting was convened on 9th and 10th November in New Delhi bringing together the eminent international and national TB experts from four thematic areas. The ISAG consisted of 6 international experts and 3 experts from India.

Members of International Scientific Advisory Group include Dr Barry Bloom, Distinguished Service Professor, Harvard University, USA, Chair ITRDC; Dr Madhukar Pai, Director, McGill Global Health Programs, Canada (via skype); Dr Samir K. Brahmachari, Founder Director, CSIR – IGIB, and Chief Mentor OSDD, Delhi; Dr Christian Lienhardt, Senior Research Adviser, Global TB Program, Geneva; Dr K Srinath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi; Dr Stefen H. E. Kaufmann*, Professor, Max Planck Institute, Germany (via Skype); Dr Peter Small, Founding Director, Global Health Institute, USA; Dr P R Narayanan, Former Director, NIRT, Chennai; Dr Lalitha Ramakrishnan, Professor of Infectious diseases,University of Cambridge, UK and Dr Abdool Karim, Caprissa Professor,Epidemiology & Public Health, Columbia University, US.

The members of ISAG were highly appreciative of this unique initiative bringing together most of the organizations working to fight TB in line with PM’s mission of ‘Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas’. The ISAG members were also appreciative of the tremendous progress made in a short span of time and the efforts put in by all the working group members in preparing a consolidated landscape analysis of all national and international leads in each area and shortlisting the leads along with their plan of action. The leads identified for taking ahead, the way forward and timelines were critically analysed by the Group and they identified core areas and guided on the strategy for the initiative to fight TB and achieve its goal.