National Research Centers Playing Key Role to Combat COVID-19, Prof. Dr. Iqbal Choudhary
Islamabad: Prof. Dr. M. Iqbal Choudhary, Director, International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS) interacted with media to brief on the ICCBS establishment, programmes, projects and achievements.
He said that the International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS) was established through generous private sector contribution (Husein Ebrahim Jamal Foundation, and Dr. Panjwani Trust), and by international support, in 1966. Late Prof. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui and Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman, two the most famous scientists of Pakistan, were remained involved in the development of this international centre as successive directors from 1966 to 2002. Prof. Choudhary informed that Prof. Rahman retired as director of ICCBS two decades ago and has not been involved with the centre in any administrative or financial capacity since then. The centre has been built and sustained with international grants from Germany, United States, United Kingdom, Japan and other countries as well as donations from the Husein Ebrahim Jamal Foundation and the Dr. Panjwani Memorial Trust and I have been serving ICCBS as Director since 2002, he said.
While mentioning the ICCBS’s services to the nation during COVID19 pandemic, he said that the National Institute of Virology (NIV) of ICCBS conducted over 140,000 PCR based tests helping in national fight against the health crises. To achieve the large scale testing objective, NIV placed several PCR machines and deputed highly trained virologists to Indus Hospital.
Prof. Choudhary mentioned that the nationwide genome surveillance was conducted to keep a close watch on the emergence of deadly variants in Pakistan to monitor the mutational changes in the SARS Cov-II virus at the Jamil ur Rahman Center for Genomics of the ICCBS, established through the personal donation of Prof. Dr. Atta ur Rahman, FRS. So far 70 full genomes of SARS-CoV-2 virus have been sequenced and globally reported from the genome center of the ICCBS and 350 genetic mutations have been identified by the center.
He introduced that the Industrial Analytical Center (IAC) of the ICCBS, is the largest industrial support facility of Pakistan in the academic setup, initiated 24 hours testing services of items manufactured locally to fight pandemic. IAC is an ISO 9000 and 17025 accredited center, and its reports are internationally recognized. IAC’s services ensured that only those products are allowed to be sold which are as per international standards, he said.
Prof. Choudhary said that the ICCBS’s Center for Bioequivalence Studies and Clinical Research (CBSCR) conducted clinical trials as per international standards on two traditional medicines, prescribed in China. This was the only center at that time to conduct clinical trials in search of better treatment of COVID patients in Pakistan. CBSCR also conducted phase I clinical trials on SinoPharm vaccine and proved its safety in Pakistan. SinoPharm vaccine is the only vaccine which is currently being dispensed in government hospitals to people older than 50 years, he informed.
He said that ICCBS researchers have validated the efficacy of drugs such as remdesivir, and dimethyl lithospermate against molecular targets in SARS-CoV-2 virus. They also successfully cultured the virus in green monkey’s cells and started testing various herbs for their antiviral effects. Results of these studies were published internationally and patented in Pakistan and in USA, Prof. Choudhary mentioned.
The ICCBS is one of the finest academic research establishments of chemical and biomedical sciences in the developing world. This center has won more international awards than any other institution in Pakistan. These international awards include Islamic Development Bank Prize for the Best Science Institution (twice 2004 and 2010), World Health Organization Collaborating Center. This is UNESCO Category II center. ICCBS is also recognized internationally by the OIC, and, TWAS as their Center of Excellence.
It has the most decorated faculty in the country that has won UNESCO Science Prize, Fellowship of the Royal Society, Khwarizmi International Prize, ECO, and COMSTECH awards and UNESCO Science Prize, while the national awards include Nishan-e-lmtiaz (01), Hilal-e-lmtiaz (05), Sitara-e-lmtiaz (13), Tamgha-i-lmtiaz (13), etc.
Dr. Choudhary mentioned that ICCBS has trained over 1,500 PhD level scientists, currently serving in top institutions and industries of the country. He said that the center’s research in the frontier fields of molecular medicine, genomics, nanotechnology, organic synthesis is published in over 8,500 research papers in leading international journals, including a few in international peer reviewed impact factor journals of Bentham Science Publishers. He said that the work of ICCBS scientists have been cited hundreds of thousands of times by other scientists of the world, reflecting the high quality and relevance. Average citation of a senior ICCBS researcher is 25,000 with h-index 40. Some of the discoveries of commercial relevance were protected by over 100 national and international patents, and are in various phases of development with industries, including a Rs. 200 million projects with Searle Pakistan, he highlighted.
He said that along with outstanding academic services, the center has been engaged in industrial and community services. It operates Pakistan’s most modern Sindh Forensic DNA and Serology Lab, supporting the legal system in the province of Sindh. ICCBS provides world class analytical and consultancy services to over 700 industries through its ISO 9,000 and ISO 17,025 certified center, and has helped Pak customs to increase its revenues several folds. DRAP approved clinical trial and bioequivalence center of the ICCBS is providing services to pharmaceutical industry of Pakistan.
The center helps the higher courts at every time of need, be identification of victims of mass causalities, detection of poisons, pork in poultry feed, contaminants in pharmaceuticals, Karachi Ports mass allergy incidents etc., Prof. Choudhary informed.
He said that it is the only centre in the developing world that provides training to scientists from advanced countries, having trained over 1,200 foreign scientists from some 35 countries, including about a hundred scientists from Germany, as well as those from France, and the US.
Prof. Choudhary informed that the outstanding performance of ICCBS has been periodically evaluated by top scientists of the world, including several Nobel laureates. A neutral external performance evaluation of the centre by 11 top-rated scientists from the West was commissioned by the Ministry of Science and Technology in 2019. Comments by individual scientists and the performance report generated by the 11-person evaluation body are available on relevant websites (www.iccs.edu), he directed.
The world class scientific instrumentation, libraries and bioassay facilities at the ICCBS are supporting the entire chemical and biochemical science research in Pakistan. Needless to say, all its accounts are regularly audited and it is completely accountable for all the funding it receives, said Prof. Choudhary.