In today’s world, being interdisciplinary is the key, believes Dr Radha Rangarajan, Director, Central Drug Research Institute (CSIR-CDRI), Lucknow who in an exclusive interview shared her views on the initiatives at the institute, industry academia interactions, technological trends, biopharma industry and much more.
What are the main areas of focus and research at CSIR-CDRI under your leadership? Can you share some notable achievements or breakthroughs that the institute has made in recent years?
CDRI’s mission is to develop drugs, process technologies and diagnostics for diseases of relevance to India. We work in 8 therapeutic areas which include viral, microbial and parasitic infections, cancer, musculoskeletal disorders, reproductive health, metabolic diseases and neurological disorders. Our scientists are involved in both, basic and translational research and development.
Some of our recent successes include Phase 1 approvals for 3 small molecules, 1 Phase 3 approval for a phytopharmaceutical drug, completion of a Phase 3 trial for a drug repurposed for Covid along with our industry partner, and a technology impact award (STEM Technology Transfer Impact Award-2022) for a nano-formulation from Spinacia oleracea for Osteoarthritis. In addition, a DNA binding dye for research use and a universal quencher for RT-PCR assays have been transferred to industry partners.
What initiatives or strategies are you implementing to bridge the gap between academia and industry in the field of drug discovery?
CDRI has been engaging with industry since its inception. CDRI’s research and development activities in drugs, diagnostics and process technologies have required interactions and tech transfers, mainly to the pharmaceutical industry. Our current engagements are with small, medium and large sized pharma and biotech companies in the life sciences sector. We invite speakers from such companies to our campus to give talks and discuss areas of common interest with our scientists. We also participate in industry events to showcase our IP and products in development. Further, we offer services in drug testing, toxicology, in vitro screening, in vivo pharmacology and analytical chemistry, which are often sought by medium and small sized companies. More recently, we have started to host workshops with industry partners to facilitate collaborations from idea to product.
In your opinion, what are the most promising areas of research or emerging technologies that could revolutionize the biopharma industry in the coming years?
The pharma and biopharma industry faces many challenges today. There is a need to respond to emerging diseases in real time, expand therapies for diseases with low incidence while balancing affordability and access. This means that the industry has to take a renewed look at R&D processes and business models. Technologies that reduce risk of failure, speed up the development of products and allow for differentiated products to go to market are all relevant for the industry to pivot.
In the area of drug discovery and development, I believe that AI/ML tools are going to play an outsized role. If such tools are able to better predict compounds that are efficacious and safe, the success rate, cost and time to take drugs to market may be dramatically impacted. Some examples of early success such as the repurposing of baricitinib during the Covid-19 pandemic and the recent news of In Silico Medicine taking an AI designed drug for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis into Phase 1 are heartening. But for these tools to become mainstream, bottlenecks such as the lack of publicly available data sets and the near absence of interdisciplinary teams need to be addressed.
I am also hopeful about PROTACs, oligonucleotides, antibodies and peptide based therapies which are broadening the range of proteins that can be targeted for therapeutic purposes.
“I encourage scientists to think big and be bold. Ideas that are futuristic spur cutting edge research which in turn, lead to impactful solutions.”