COMSTECH webinar explores avenues for vaccine and drug development

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ISLAMABAD – Dr. Azad suggested that the area of drug discovery and development is promising for Islamic countries to productively collaborate, “rational” bioprospecting of the Biota. The pharmaceutical research have huge potential in the Islamic world that can be materialized through multinational and multidisciplinary collaboration between research groups possessing complementary expertise and facilities, said Prof. Dr. Ahmed Abdullah Azad, Chief Research Scientist, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Division of Biotechnology, Melbourne, Australia, while addressing COMSTECH webinar on “opportunities for production of affordable biosimilar medicines, and plant-based novel therapeutics in the Islamic world.

Many resource and technology poor Islamic countries, with valuable human and intellectual capital, must be provided the opportunity to contribute to competitive research that benefits them and the Islamic world, he urged. Pharmaceutical and biotechnology research in the Islamic world would greatly benefit from access to cutting-edge technologies and uniform and common IP and regulatory guidelines. COMSTECH, with support of Islamic Development Bank, could play a catalytic role by enabling and coordinating the development of world-class Biomolecular research capacity in OIC-member countries, he suggested.

Dr. Azad pointed out that a substantial amount of material for the production of generic medicines is sourced from developing countries including some in the Islamic world. He explained how the pipeline of new small-molecule drugs, from which generic medicines are copied, have almost dried up as multinational drug companies have turned their attention to a new class of very efficacious protein-based pharmaceuticals (Biologics).

The earlier versions of Biologics were human enzymes, hormones, growth factors and cytokines produced by recombinant DNA technologies. The latest versions are monoclonal antibody (Mab)-type molecules, he explained.

These new generation of life-saving drugs are extremely expensive (at least $50,000 per patient a year) and simply beyond the means of most people and poor countries of the developing and Islamic world, Dr. Azad mentioned.

There is, therefore a huge demand for the production of cheaper versions of these wonder drugs, termed Biosimilars, through reverse-engineering and recombinant DNA technology. As most Mab-type Biologics are under patent, copying them into Biosimilars is not easy but luckily least developed countries are exempt from patent restrictions till 2032, he informed.

Prof. Dr. Ahmed Abdullah Azad, is the Chief Research Scientist, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Division of Biotechnology, Melbourne, Australia. His research helped in the discovery and development of the anti-Flu drug Neuraminidase. He led the research in the discovery and development, and commercialisation, of a recombinant subunit vaccine against a highly immunosuppressive virus (IBDV). Dr. Azad has more than 130 peer reviewed papers in international journals and 10 patents. He is Fellow of five science academies, and currently is Secretary General of the Islamic-World Academy of Sciences.

Scientists, researchers and experts from Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, Indonesia, Iraq, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan and other countries joined this webinar.