Sunday, December 5

Kolkata woman is part of Oxford univ vaccine team

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A Kolkata woman is playing a crucial role in the Oxford University team trying to develop a vaccine against Covid-19, which could potentially end the pandemic.

Chandra Datta, 34, who lives in Oxford, is working as a quality assurance manager at the university facility, which is manufacturing the anti-viral vector vaccine — ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 — which went to human trials last Thursday.

If the vaccine passes those trials, it could be available for the public by September or October, she said.

Chandra, who hails from Golf Gardens in Tollygunge, went to Gokhale Memorial Girls’ School and has a BTech in engineering and biotechnology at the Heritage Institute of Technology. She moved to the UK in 2009 to study for an MSc in bioscience (biotechnology) at Leeds University.

She then worked in several roles before landing her plum job at Oxford, where she works at the university’s Cinical Biomanufacturing Facility, which manufactures viral vector vaccines for early-phase clinical trials all over the world, and is manufacturing the Covid-19 vaccine developed at the Jenner Institute.

Chandra oversees the quality assurance side of vaccine manufacturing, making sure procedures and methods are compliant, correcting any problems.

“After I have checked all the paperwork, the quality professional does certification of the batch that he is happy for the vaccine to go to clinical trial. That happened on Wednesday with the Covid-19 vaccine. It was a big day. We had a big celebration. We all had wine and cake on Zoom together,” said Chandra, who is currently working from home.

“It has been an amazing experience,” she said. “I have always worked in the pharmaceutical industry and I feel that making human life better is our goal. But I have never experienced anything like this before. It feels great and I think the whole world wants this vaccine so life can return to normality.”

She had initially worked on the vaccine in secret because it was confidential, she revealed. “The last one month everyone has been really pressured, but we got it done very quickly. There has been a massive team effort,” she said.

“I don’t work in distribution but from what I have heard, we are planning to start mass manufacture at the Serum Institute in Pune before the trial passes so that it can go to the market as soon as trial passes,” she said. “Vaccine development normally takes three to four years and we are trying to get this done in a few months. So far, we have made approximately 600 of the vaccines. We are in the process of manufacturing more. I think we can make 1,000 and then it will get mass-produced. They are looking into more manufacturing facilities in the UK which is not finalised yet,” she said.

Back at their Golf Garden flat, proud parents Samir Kanti (65) and Kaberi Datta (58) were overjoyed with their daughter’s achievement and are praying for her success. “My daughter has always been extremely ambitious and hardworking. I wish success to the entire team and we are praying hard. It will mean a lot to humanity as a whole and I am proud that my daughter is associated with such a noble cause,” said father Samir Kanti Datta, vice-principal of Bhowanipore Education Society and the teacher-in-charge of the science department.

He said Chandrabali had come home last December and had stayed for a couple of weeks. “That was the last time we met her. Then the world changed because of the virus and although initially I was extremely tensed about her, I realised the importance of her work and am truly a proud father.”

The Oxford team plans to vaccinate 800 volunteers in the UK over the next month. If the trial is successful, they will approach the Government of Kenya for permission to evaluate it in Kenya. “I think the UK will be the first to have it, obviously, since it is a British invention. The vaccine will need to be given to the whole world if enough manufactured vaccines are available,” Chandra said.

“Oxford is the best place to be for vaccine development. It is very inspiring and my school in Kolkata is one of the best schools. They really motivated us to be ambitious and goal-focused and my college convinced us that there was a future career in biotechnology…. Bengalis are known for being intelligent, so it must be in my genes. It must be the fish we eat!” she added.

Samir said Kaberi were strictly following lockdown protocol and have managed home-delivery of staples — grocery to medicine — from two stores in the neighbourhood. “When we crave fish, our security guard fetches it from the market,” Samir said.

(Additional inputs by Tamaghna Banerjee in Kolkata)

 

Source: Times of India

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