Ms. Minurani Dalai and Mr. Sai Nikith Cholichetti, Ph.D. students from the School of Life Sciences, University of Hyderabad (UoH) won the best presentation awards, with a cash prize during a 3 week virtual workshop which was organized from 15th  of March to 4th April 2021.

Sai Nikith Cholichetti

The highlights of the workshop are given below: 

The virtual drug discovery and development workshop, jointly organized by the Federation of Asian Biotech Associations (FABA-biofaba.org.in), the Science Gurus (sciencegurus.org) and the University of Hyderabad, from 15th of March to 4th April 2021 was concluded with a keynote address by Dr. Anula Jayasuriya (Founder & Managing Director, EXXclaim Capital; Co-founder EILSF, Los Altos Hills, California, USA), a panel discussion on “Pharma and Biopharma Industries in India: Opportunities and Challenges in Innovative Drug Discovery and Development” and the presentation of the awards to the participants.  The highlights of the workshop include topics on various aspects of drug discovery and development, 45 experts drawn from 40 different leading institutions and industries in India and US and about 60 participants from the academy and industry from 4 different countries, such as Bangladesh, Israel, Iran and India. In addition to the presentations by the experts in the field, the participants also presented breakthrough advances in the field of drug discovery and development during each session of the 21day long workshop. The key organisers include Prof. Reddanna, Executive President, FABA and University of Hyderabad, Dr. Jagath Reddy, Board Chairman, Science Gurus, Dr. Ajith Kamath, Advisor, Pandorum Technologies, Dr. Surya Sankuratri, Chief Business Officer, Iron Hills Therapeutics, Dr. Chakk Ramesha, CEO, Medhus Bio and Dr. Bindumadhava Reddy, University of Hyderabad.

Week 1:

The inauguration of the workshop on the 15th of March was marked by the inaugural address by Anuradha Acharya (CEO Mapmygenome/ Genomepatri) where she spoke about the importance of personalised medicine. In addition, Ms. Acharya’s founded company Ocimum bio solutions is one of the first companies that set up rapid testing centres for COVID-19 especially in the major airports of the country such as Hyderabad. The first week of the workshop was aimed at introducing the participants to the importance of target validation for drug discovery, the disease signaling pathways, gene family approach in drug development, recent advances in the small and large molecule discoveries, the need to understand inflammation in the disease context and the value and the necessity of Computer Aided Drug Designing (CADD) and AI in the field of drug discovery. Dr. Chakk Ramesha (CEO- Medhu’s Bio) actively engaged the participants during his presentation where he spoke about drug target identification and validation. Dr. Prabhat Arya ( Founder- SignMod Technologies) and Dr. Ajith Kamath (Pandorum Technologies) provided an in-depth view of the importance of studying the disease signalling pathways and how the advances in gene family and genetic approaches can be used for disease therapy.

Informative sessions were delivered by Dr. Ganesh Kolumam (Head of Physiology- Calico Labs) and Prof. P. Reddanna (Senior Professor- University of Hyderabad) on the role of inflammation in disease such as cancer and Psoriasis. Prof. P. Reddanna also highlighted the use and development of Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), specifically COX-2 inhibitors in addressing the inflammatory component in cancers.

The session on topics covering the small and large molecule studies and biologics were spearheaded by Dr Vasu Jamma (pH Pharma) and Kavitha Iyer Rodrigues (CEO- Zumutor Biologics). Dr. Vasu Jamma spoke about the medical chemistry of small molecules in drug development and Kavitha Iyer Rodrigues presented the developments in the field of Novel Immuno Oncotherapeutics, such as harnessing the capacity of the natural killer cells in a tumour microenvironment.

This was followed by sessions to help the participants understand the value and use of CADD, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Bioinformatics in the modleling and design of the drugs. The session on CADD was conducted by Dr. Rami Reddy Mutyala ( Chairman-Rational Labs) followed by Dr. Parthiban Srinivasan (CEO- Vingyani), who introduced the participants to the major advances in AI and how the same can be utilised in rapid drug discovery. The importance of in-silico analysis and bioinformatics to find putative drug targets and how bioinformatics has made it very easy for a researcher to gather information about any variation in a disease related or causing genes within a sub-population was highlighted by Dr. Eric Stawiski (VP Bioinformatics- PACT Pharma) and Dr. Kushal Surya Mohan ( Director Bioinformatics- MedGenome).

An important aspect of the DDD workshop was the participant presentations. The participants were given a list of disease and drug related topics to choose from and a 15 mins presentation was made by each participant on a topic of their choice. These sessions began on the 20th of March and continued till the 3rd of April. The participant session saw some exceptional presentations from the students, scholars and industrial representatives.  This workshop was sponsored by Natco Pharma, Jackson Laboratories and Cytiva.

Week 2:

The second week of the drug discovery workshop began with Dr. Sinnatham by Gomathinayagam’s (Principal Scientist- Amgen) presentation on the use and importance of validating and targeting crucial biomarkers in the disease context especially cancer. This was followed by Dr. Manjunath Ramarao’s (Executive Director-BMS) session on the advances of immune oncology. Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics (PK&PD) and drug metabolism are crucial parameters that can take a drug from the pre-clinical to clinical development and these topics were well covered by Dr. Amritha Kamath (Executive Director- Genentech) and Dr. Mani Subramanyam (CEO- ReaGene Biosciences).

Animal models are the backbone of the drug and Pharma industries, these sessions were held by Dr. Dolores Garcia-Arocena (Jackson Laboratories) and Dr. Ansar Ali Khan (Aragen life sciences) who spoke about the use of animal models for evaluation of the safety and efficacy of the drugs during pre-clinical development.

From the bench to a bioreactor, the industrial and large scale production of the drugs, small molecules or biologics, is a challenging process. The manufacturing and formulating of large molecules at the industrial level were presented by Dr. Shreedhara Alavattam (Sr. Group leader – Genentech), while the same for small molecules by Dr. Srinivas Oruganti (Director- ILS Dr. Reddy’s).

Dr. Mahender Rao Sripragada (Neuland laboratories) provided a comprehensive view on how marketing and revaluation of generic drugs is done followed by Dr. Satish Manjunatha (Syngene) who delivered an interesting presentation on the development of vaccines, an aspect which began as one of the biggest challenges with respect to COVID-19 but was also overcome by the collaboration of the academia, Pharma and industrial sectors. The importance of the reproducibility of results especially at the level of clinical trials is paramount to the delivery of a high quality drugs in the market. Dr. William Reed (Senior Medical Director- BeiGene) and Dr. Saurabh Singh (Novartis) spoke about the need to test and reproduce published results in order to validate claims regarding the drug action and the symptoms associated with drug usage. The session on licensing and regulatory agreements required to make a Pharma startup successful was conducted by Dr. Surya Sankuratri (CBO- Iron Hills Therapeutics) and Dr. Eswara Reddy (Joint Drugs Controller India). Dr. Reddy shared with the participants all the recent steps taken by DCGI to facilitate the fast clearances and regulatory approvals for bringing the innovative products into the market, including Covid-19 vaccines. The second week ended with Dr. Chakk Ramesha introducing the participants to various aspects of wearable devices followed by Dr. Uday Saxena (Co-Founder-ReaGene innovations) who gave a clear and comprehensive overview of the development and production of various molecular and immune diagnostics.

Week 3:

The Final week of the workshop began with a session by Dr. Suresh Poda (Head of Biology- Eisai G2D2) on neurodegenerative diseases and the medical advances such as gene therapy that are being used to tackle progressive neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s disease. Dr. Shridhar Narayanan (FNDR) presented the exceptional work they are doing in the field of infectious diseases such as Tuberculosis (TB) and how despite the hurdles their foundation has been able to provide a drug which has been proven to be highly effective in managing TB.  Dr. Ramchander Turaga (Excelra) provided a novel way to carry out drug repurposing using AI, and Dr. Ajith Kamath delivered an insightful session on the advances and challenges of personalised medicine. A path breaking advancement with respect to treating cancer has been the invention and development of the Chimeric Antigen Receptor T cells (CAR T-cells), this session was held by    Dr. Mohan Vemuri (Director R&D- Thermo Fisher Scientific). Dr. Arun Shastry (CSO- Hanugen Therapeutics) spoke to the participants about how Hanugen therapeutics is the first company to use gene therapy to help patients with muscular dystrophy. The importance of filing patents and the IP rights are key to both large pharmaceutical industries and individuals with valuable ideas and discoveries. Dr. Goutam Bhattacharyya (K&S Partners) provided an in-depth view on how to file for both national and International patents and the challenges involved in both.

Dr. Jagath Reddy Junutula (Board Chairman- Science Gurus) delivered an enlightening session on the use of Antibody Drug Conjugates (ADCs) and he addressed a number of questions the participants had with respect to the treatments and challenges involved in the use of ADCs for the treatment of cancer. For those participants keen on venturing into the field of startups Dr. Santanu Datta (Bugworks) and Dr. Srikant Viswanadha (Incozen) provided all the information required to motivate them in the right direction. Koushik Sai (Venture East Capital) ended the sessions with a brief overview of the venture financing ecosystem in the country and also presented various opportunities, Government and non-Government, for the startups in India.

The workshop ended on a high note, on the final day closing ceremony which was initiated by Dr. P. Ratnakar and Dr. Surya Sankuratri. The key note speaker, Dr. Anula Jayasuriya, addressed the audience consisting of the organizing committee, the participants and invited guests on various aspects of funding and capital for companies and individuals. The workshop drew to close with the awards ceremony, where the participants with the best presentations were felicitated by Dr. Ajith Kamath and Dr. Chakk Ramesha. Dr. Jagath Reddy Junutula summarised the efforts put into the workshop to make it a grand success and highlighted the efforts of FABA, The University of Hyderabad and The Science gurus which were applauded by the audience. He also thanked the sponsorships received from Natco Pharma, Jackson laboratories and Cytiva. The workshop concluded with a commitment to hold similar workshops every year jointly.