PRESS RELEASE: Highlights of initiatives of ASPIRE BioNest UOH bioincubator to curb COVID-19 situation


by Biotech Express Bureau |  September 2020

ASPIRE, Association for Scientific Pursuits in Innovative Research Enterprises, is a section-8, not-for-profit organization that manages the innovation and entrepreneurial activities at the University of Hyderabad through incubation of startup companies in various disciplines of science and technology. BioNEST at the University of Hyderabad (UoH) is a life sciences bio-incubator with 20000 sft, set-up with the Support of the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), a Government of India Enterprise under Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology. It provides a plug-and-play life science ecosystem for incubation.

OncoSeek Bio Pvt Ltd., a startup incubated at ASPIRE-BioNest, University of Hyderabad (UoH) was selected for Financial support for developing an in vitro Lung Organoid model by DBT-BIRAC.Oncoseekbio Pvt Ltd 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.

Oncoseek Bio Pvt. Ltd also received another prestigious grant from U.S.–India Science & Technology Endowment Fund (USISTEF)  under the category of COVID-19 Ignition Grants for “Development and Screening of Drug or Zinc Nanoparticle conjugated Synthetic Nano-bodies (“Sybodies”) to Neutralize SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19” in collaboration with Dr. Avery August from Cornell University, Ithaka, New York.

University of Hyderabad (UoH) and CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad collaborated with VINS Bioproducts Ltd, a well-known antisera manufacturing company which is also incubated at University of Hyderabad BioNEST incubation center have tied up to develop antibody fragment-based immunotherapy for immediate treatment for COVID-19.

This collaborative effort plans to use the F(ab’)2 platform technology which has been providing neutralizing antibodies from horses for a variety of life-threatening pathologies in humans as anti-venoms, anti-toxins and anti-virals.  Horse-based immunoglobulins can be produced in large quantities as a promising alternative therapy, which would be economical and can be made readily available to a larger population.  The collaborators have complementary expertise required for developing the therapy for treating the COVID 19 pandemic. The team is quite hopeful about this treatment and feels that this would be more productive, efficient, safe, which can meet the enormous requirement for the treatment of COVID19 infection.

The UoH team is headed by Dr. Nooruddin Khan, an Associate Professor at the Department of Animal Biology, School of Life Sciences. Dr. Khan’s laboratory specializes in the area of immunology, infection biology, and vaccinology. The Team at CCMB is headed by Dr. Krishnan Harinivas, who is a principal scientist and specializes in the area of molecular virology. Dr. Krishna Mohan is leading the research team at VINS. Dr. Mohan specializes in bioprocessing and product Development.

Mr. Siddharth Daga, CEO of Vins Bioproducts Ltd., expressed his confidence in the fast track development by complimenting the technical and infrastructural strengths available in the three collaborating organizations and making available a very specific therapeutic anti viral product in the shortest possible time.

ReaGene Innovations incubated at ASPIRE-BioNEST of University of Hyderabad (UoH) along with INDRAS Pvt. Ltd., Hyderabad has collaborated with Tech Mahindra, the IT giant, to identify FDA approved drugs which can be redeployed as therapeutics for COVID-19. The collaboration will use both Artificial Intelligence (AI) and rational computational approaches for identifying approved existing drugs validated using biological and pharmacological methods. The objective of their collaboration is to stop the entry of virus into lung airway epithelial cells.  The choice of this strategy is important because the high transmission rate of COVID-19 is attributed in part to tight attachment of the virus that facilitates its entry into lung cells.

Dr. Ratnakar Palakodeti, Vice President of Life Sciences vertical of Tech Mahindra said “this collaboration will bring valuable findings in therapeutic interventions through a faster route than conventional drug discovery as well as add invaluable intellectual property”. The technology frontrunner, Tech Mahindra will use the decades of scientific expertise of Dr. Uday Saxena, an internationally experienced pharmaceutical executive.
In addition, the collaboration will use the rational in silico scientific expertise of Dr. Sreedhara Voleti at INDRAS in identifying most suitable drugs which could be repurposed against COVID-19.  This project also includes contributions from internal teams of Tech Mahindra on the artificial intelligence in protein-ligand interactions towards the global goal of identifying repurposed drugs for COVID-19 mitigation.

ReaGene Innovations Pvt. Ltd., in collaboration with BIRAC and the UoH entered into an agreement with the USA based Prodigy Biotech, Inc. to develop novel immunotherapeutics for COVID-19.  ReaGene will use its discovery and development expertise to exploit Prodigy’s platform technologies for therapeutics directed to mitigate COVID-19.  Prodigy is guided by Dr. Susan Weiss who is a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania in PA, USA, a world’s leading Corona virologist. In addition, ReaGene will collaborate and partner with DBL Pvt. Ltd. of Vadodara and Dr. Tamishraha Bagchi to complete the development of the COVID-19 product(s).

Dr. Subrahmanyam Vangala, CEO of ReaGene said, “we are excited to collaborate with Prodigy and its leadership & scientific advisory team to work on the new treatment modalities to COVID-19. Prodigy’s technology brings a unique strategic approach to the various treatment modalities available to tackle COVID-19”. Dr. Uday Saxena, Co-founder and Chief Ideator at ReaGene said “I find this to be a wonderful complementary collaboration to attack a major global health burden”. Dr. Subra Iyer, Chief Scientific Officer of Prodigy added, “We look forward to the partnership with ReaGene and extremely excited to be able to offer a cornerstone technology to eliminate COVID-19”.

KJB Diagnostics Develops IgG ELISA kit for COVID-19
KJB Diagnostics, another start-up incubated at ASPIRE BioNEST, developed IgG ELISA kit for detection of COVID-19 antibodies. The kit recently got the approval from ICMR. KJB Diagnostics was promoted by Dr. Jayanth Bhanushali, who was the promoter of a well-known Amar Diagnostics company.

BIRAC of DBT has selected ASPIRE-BioNEST of UoHas an Associate Partner for its Biotechnology Ignition Grant (BIG) scheme. As an associate partner, ASPIRE-BioNEST is expected to organize workshops and outreach events for creating awareness of BIG scheme, especially in Tier 2/3 cities, and provide local mentorship for BIG aspirants for their application submission. Mentoring could be provided for areas including but not limited to technical, business, IP, legal, regulatory etc.

On this pleasant development, Prof. Appa Rao Podile, The Chairman of ASPIRE, said, “This is another feather in the cap of BioNEST at UoH. I am sure ASPIRE-BioNEST is poised to play a major role in shaping India’s biotech entrepreneurship scenario. It is a shot in the arm for the young BioNEST to be the associate partner for the BIG initiative of the BIRAC.  Innovation ecosystem at UoH under the ASPIRE continues to work non-stop during the pandemic, led by the incubates associated with BioNEST speaks about our commitment to the nation in promoting the entrepreneurship to strengthen the ATMANIRBHAR strategy of the Government of India.” Prof. Reddanna, the Project Coordinator, said that ASPIRE BioNEST incubation center inaugurated on 28th Feb, 2018 is incubating 25 start-ups engaged in frontline areas of biology and biotechnology. He congratulated all the start-ups for addressing the problems of COVID-19 pandemic through national and international collaborations and for receiving the highly competitive COVID-19 grants.


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