The COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, has resulted in a global health and economic crisis of unprecedented scale. The high transmissibility of SARS- CoV-2, combined with a lack of population immunity and prevalence of severe clinical outcomes, urges the rapid development of effective therapeutic counter measures. To combat this pandemic and in keeping with its mission and vision, the U.S.–India Science & Technology Endowment Fund (USISTEF) announced a call for proposals under the category of COVID-19 Ignition Grants in April 2020. After a rigorous binational review process, USISTEF announced awards to 11 bilateral teams, proposing out-of-the-box, innovative ideas that address the COVID-19 challenge.

Oncoseek Bio Pvt. Ltd., one of the start-up companies of ASPIRE-BioNEST at University of Hyderabad has received the USISTEF under COVID-19 Ignition Grants for a “Novel therapeutic strategy to fight against Covid-19”. This project was one of the 11 selected out of 520 proposals that were received and evaluated. This is the second competitive grant that the company is receiving. Earlier it has received a grant from BIRAC, Govt. of India to develop a platform to screen the potential drug candidates for Covid 19.

In the present proposal, Oncoseek Bio Pvt Ltd., is proposing to create a therapeutic by developing neutralizing novel antibodies directed against the receptor-binding domain (RBD) and other epitopes of the Spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. The antibodies are conjugated to drug/Zn nanoparticle (ADCs), which would release the drug of choice at the site of action.   The company joining hands with Prof. August Avery, of Cornell University who will test the efficacy of these potential ADCs against COVID-19 using human angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (hACE2) expressing mouse models. Dr. Suresh Poosala the main applicant, who has envisioned and created the proposal, said that these mouse models are not available in India and this collaboration will be very helpful in doing in vivo screening. The other partners with rich experience include Oncosimis Biotech Pvt Ltd., which will synthesize the novel antibodies, Reagene Biosciences Pvt Ltd., which will create the ADCs and IgY Pvt Ltd., which supports the nanoparticle portion of this project.

Expressing his happiness at the grant, Prof. Appa Rao Podile, Vice Chancellor, University of Hyderabad congratulated the team of Oncoseek Bio Pvt. Ltd. and said that this development augurs well for the ASPIRE-BioNEST that is focussing on quality over quantity and the focus is paying dividends.

Oncoseekbio Pvt Ltd, a startup incubated at ASPIRE-BioNEST at UoH since 2019, has a vision to develop in vitro and in vivo platforms for specific diseases for therapeutics screening.  Dr. Poosala returned to India after 25 years at NIH, Washington, Bristol-Myers Squibb, San Francisco, University of Maryland, Baltimore, and St. Jude’s Research, Memphis in the USA. A team consisting of Dr. Suresh Poosala, Dr. Bharadwaja Vadloori and Miss. Shanmuga Priya, has been conducting research on cell culture models for a few diseases including cancer.