The Union Government launched Drug Discovery Hackathon on 2 July 2020 in the presence of Union Minister for Science and Technology, Harsh Vardhan, and union minister for Human Resource Development Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’. This Drug Discovery Hackathon is a joint initiative of MHRD’s Innovation Cell (MIC), All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and supported by Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC), MyGov as well as private players.
According to the press statement, this Hackathon is first of its kind National initiative for supporting the drug discovery process and will see participation from professionals, faculty, researchers, and students from varied fields like computer science, chemistry, pharmacy, medical sciences, basic sciences and biotechnology.
Vardhan spoke about the need to establish a culture of computational drug discovery in the country. “In this initiative, MHRD’s Innovation cell and AICTE will focus on identifying potential drug molecules through the Hackathon while CSIR will take these identified molecules forward for synthesis and laboratory testing for efficacy, toxicity, sensitivity and specificity.”
Pointing out that drug discovery is a complex, expensive, arduous and time-consuming process, Vardhan said, “While we pursue clinical trials of few repurposed drugs for Covid-19, as they are faster and can quickly be launched, it is also important that we find other suitable repurposed drugs. At the same time continue working on new drug discovery to develop specific drugs against Covid-19. In-silico drug discovery, which utilizes computational methods such as Machine Learning (ML), AI, and Big Data, will accelerate this process”.
K Vijay Raghavan, principal scientific adviser, Government of India, said, “I wish to thank MHRD, AICTE and CSIR and all our partners for supporting this Hackathon, which will help India establish a new model for expediting drug discovery process. The Hackathon consists of challenges that are posted as problem statements and are based on specific drug discovery topics that are open to the participants to solve. It will have three phases of three months each, and the whole exercise is to be completed by April to May 2021. At the end of each phase, successful teams will be rewarded. The ‘lead’ compounds identified at the end of phase 3 will be taken for the experimental level at CSIR and other interested organizations.
Background information and methodology of Hackathon
The Hackathon consists of challenges that are posted as problem statements and, are based on specific drug discovery topics that are open to the participants to solve. According to the press statement, a total of 29 Problem Statements (PS) have been identified.
– MyGov portal is being used, and any Indian student can participate.
– Professionals and researchers from anywhere in the world can participate.
– TheHackathon will have three Tracks. Track 1 will primarily deal with drug design for anti-Covid-19 hit or lead generation. This is done using tools such as molecular modeling, pharmacophore optimization, molecular docking, hit or lead optimization. Track 2 will deal with designing or optimizing new tools and algorithms which will have an immense impact on expediting the process of in silico drug discovery. There is also a third track called “Moon shot,” which allows for working on problems that are ‘out of the box’ nature.