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Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, India has kick-started a “science diplomacy” initiative by launching a programme to strengthen the capacity of clinical trial research of vaccines in neighbouring countries, the Department of Biotechnology said on Wednesday.

The first online orientation to this training programme was conducted on September 22 and it was attended by representatives from Nepal, Maldives, Bangladesh, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Afghanistan.

“Keeping with the principles outlined by our science diplomacy initiatives, the DBT has initiated the first phase of the training program to strengthen clinical trial research capacity for neighbouring countries’ in partnership with the Ministry of External Affairs,” a statement by the department said.

The training programme which will extend for about six to eight weeks will see participation of investigators, epidemiologists, clinicians and representatives from different departments from Nepal, Maldives, Bangladesh, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Afghanistan.

The Department of Biotechnology, through the India Centric Epidemic Preparedness (Ind-CEPI) mission for rapid vaccine development and supporting Indian vaccine development which is aligned with the Global Initiative of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), aims to strengthen the development of vaccines and associated competencies/technologies for the diseases of epidemic potential in India, the statement said.

The objective of these trainings would be to support researchers and investigator teams for enhancing and strengthening their clinical trial capabilities for conducting clinical trials in compliance with International Conference on Harmonisation – Good Clinical Practice (ICH-GCP).

“Through this training programme and knowledge sharing efforts, India is fulfilling its commitment of building various technical capacities in its neighbouring countries. Efforts to network with South Asia, ASEAN and African regions for this purpose would be aided through Ind-CEPI,” the statement said.

Speaking on the occasion, Renu Swarup, Secretary, DBT said building clinical trial capacity in neighbouring countries and all low and middle income countries (LMICs) is a priority for the department. This initiative is a step in the right direction under the Ind-CEPI mission, Swarup said.

One of the key focus areas of the mission is to support capacity building and regional networking with LMICs, the statement said.

“This will help our participating countries to build capacities for vaccine trials and for conducting Phase-3 trials for COVID-19 vaccines,” it added.