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Lokvani Team

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B) have developed a spice-based formulation that rendered the Sars-Cov-2 virus that causes Covid -19 inactive within an hour, in laboratory tests.

Dr Rinti Banerjee’s group at IIT-B’s department of biosciences and bioengineering validated the efficacy of the nutraceutical and phytopharmaceutical formulation called Picovrid, using the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). RT-PCR is globally considered a gold standard test for Covid-19. The tests were done at the civic-run Kasturba Hospital, which was among the first facilities to treat Covid-19 patients in Maharashtra.

“The active ingredients in our formulation have a direct action in disrupting lipid and protein layers, degrading the outer lipid envelope of Sars-Cov-2, thus inactivating the virus,” said Banerjee, a Madhuri Sinha chair professor.

Picovrid as a nutraceutical comprises constituents that are approved and within limits laid down by the Food Safety Standards and Authority of India (FSSAI). As a phytopharmaceutical, Picovrid-P contains approved Ayurvedic spices and natural emulsifiers, which are above food limits but at doses that are one-tenth of those found in conventional Ayurvedic formulations.

Picovrid is available in the form of an oral syrup, herbal water, flavoured beverages, oral liquid shot, capsules, gels, infusion bag of herbal tea, flavoured milk and yogurt. The team has filed a patent application for the two technologies. A manuscript about the technology is also being prepared for publication in international journals.

Having tested the formulation against Covid-19 positive swab samples with success, the team undertook a pre-clinical evaluation of Picovrid on lipopolysaccharide (LPS) induced lung injury in rats.

Globally, LPS-induced lung injury is among the most commonly-used rodent models for studies on acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). A viewpoint article published in the medical journal Lancet in July stated that the Covid-19 pandemic has witnessed an increase in patients with ARDS in intensive care units across the world.

Introducing one dose of Picovrid in LPS-induced lung injury in rats showed a significant reduction in the levels of bronchoalveolar IL6, which is a complication that Covid-19 patients develop.

Banerjee’s lab has developed various technologies for respiratory diseases, including ARDS, over the years. The team said Picovrid has a multi-pronged strategy – immune boosting, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory. “As an anti-viral, Picovrid directly inactivates the virus and is therefore useful for early Covid-19 cases. As a prophylactic, it can be of use for those at risk of being exposed. As an anti-inflammatory, our formulation is useful for those progressing towards severe disease because it reduces IL6 levels and reduces the cytokine storm associated with complications of Covid-19 which is a leading cause of mortality.” said Banerjee.

As a nutraceutical, the technology is ready for commercialisation and is available for licensing. As an Ayurvedic formulation, since all actives are already approved as per Ayurvedic Pharmacopoiea and texts, the technology has the advantage of a short timeline to commercialisation with phase III integrated clinical trials according to AYUSH guidelines unlike the longer path of three stage trials for new chemical entities, new drugs or vaccines.

Talks are ongoing for clinical trials, which may be conducted post-licensing over the next two months. Nagpur-based Government Medical College is one of the locations where a clinical trial has been registered with Clinical Trials Registry – India (CTRI).

“It [the formulation] definitely holds promise. It looks very good with the information we have at this point. But let’s get a feel of what it looks like in the clinical trial phase. However, I think it will do very well there,” said Dr Om Srivastava, infectious disease specialist and a member of the state’s Covid-19 taskforce, who was not involved in developing the technology.

Banerjee said the technology is also affordable because a 14-day course is expected to cost around ₹300 in comparison to current drugs that cost in the range of ₹9,000 to ₹44,000.

“The pre-clinical results are very promising, and if clinical trials of the technologies validate the pre-clinical findings, the formulations hold promise in different forms for prophylaxis on one hand and as a two-pronged affordable therapy for Covid-19, addressing requirements of both antiviral effects and cytokine reduction, on the other,” said Banerjee.

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