India-US collaboration needed more than ever: Senior diplomat

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The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of strong India-US collaboration, India’s Ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu has said.

Noting that India’s partnership with the US in health sciences and technologies is longstanding, the senior diplomat said research and innovation institutions of both the countries have been engaged in understanding important chronic and infectious diseases and in developing therapeutics and diagnostics.

“COVID-19 has made us recognise the need for collaborations more than ever before. Our Prime Minister has emphasised a global coordinated response to deal with the challenges even as we work to strengthen our domestic capacities to deal with this crisis,” Sandhu said during a virtual interaction with eminent Indian-American scientists on Thursday.

India and the United States have closely collaborated in combating diseases such as tuberculosis; cancer; HIV; eye diseases and environmental health research, he said.

There are over 200 ongoing NIH-funded projects in India, involving 20 Institutes from the NIH network and several eminent institutions in India.

“A recent successful example of our co-operation is the development of the ROTAVAC against rota virus. Such collaborations will be critical in the fight against COVID-19,” Sandhu said.

“From the initial days of the outbreak, our scientists and institutions have been actively engaged in exchange of information. Even as both our countries are focused on combating the disease domestically, NIH and Indian Council for Medical Research have come together and announced a call to support collaborative research and training through India-US partnership to understand the disease,” he said.

The India-US Science and Technology Endowment Fund has called for proposals that would enable scientists to carry out joint research and work towards development of new technologies, tools, safety, outreach and also support public-private virtual networks to fight COVID-19, he added.

Indian pharmaceutical companies are global leaders in producing affordable low-cost medicines and vaccines and will play an important role in the fight against this pandemic, Sandhu said.

“As I speak here today, there are at least three ongoing collaborations between Indian vaccine companies with US-based institutions. These collaborations would be beneficial not just to us, but for the billions who would need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 across the world,” Sandhu said.

Asserting that innovation will be the key driver in pandemic response and recovery, the Indian diplomat said that the tech-companies and start-ups have already begun to take the lead in this direction. Telemedicine and telehealth will evolve as will other digital platforms across sectors, he noted.

India, he said, takes immense pride in the contribution of doctors, scientists, academicians of Indian-origin, who came to the United States in the pursuit of academic excellence and have distinguished themselves in diverse fields.

Your contributions are widely acknowledged and deeply appreciated by the political leadership in the United States, he added.

The online interaction was attended by Dr Chandan K, Sen J Stanley Battersby Chair and Professor of Surgery and Director of the Indiana Center for Regenerative Medicine and Engineering, Pawan Sinha, professor of vision and computational neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Professor Shivaji Sondhi, professor of physics at Princeton University, known for contributions to the field of quantum condensed matter, Professor Aseem Chair of the Department of Chemical Biology and Therapeutics, St. Jude Children’s Hospital and Dr Sanjay Kumar Jain, Professor of Pediatrics, Radiology and Radiological Science.

The scientific community has a critical role to play in the unprecedented circumstances that we face today. As doctors, you are at the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19, as scientists and biotech experts, you are at the forefront of global efforts to find a cure for COVID-19, Sandhu said in his remarks.

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