Virander Singh Chauhan

Virander Singh Chauhan is an Indian scientist and a Rhodes Scholar working in the fields of genetic engineering and biotechnology and known for his contributions to the development of a recombinant vaccine for malaria. He was honored by the Government of India in 2012 with the fourth highest Indian civilian award of Padma Shri.

Virander Singh Chauhan, born on 3 March 1950, graduated in Chemistry (BSc) from the University of Delhi in 1969 and secured his post graduation (MSc) from the same university in 1971. His career started as the faculty member of Chemistry at the St. Stephen’s College, Delhi and continued his research at Delhi University. In 1974, he obtained a Ph.D., after which he moved to Oxford University, on temporary leave from the college, on a Rhodes Scholarship where he stayed till 1977. On his return from the Oxford, he resumed his duties at St. Stephen’s College where he worked till 1979. In between, he had a brief stay of one year as a post doctoral fellow at the University of Georgia during 1977-78.

In 1979, Chauhan joined the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur as an Assistant Professor and returned to Delhi University in 1982 as the Reader of the Department of Chemistry. In 1986, he was promoted as the Professor and worked there till 1988. Resigning from the university, Chauhan joined the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), an non profit research organization under the aegis of United Nations Industrial Development Organization as senior scientist and was entrusted the leadership of the workgroup involved in the research on Malaria. In 1998, he was appointed as the Director of the institute, a post he held till 2014.

Virander Chauhan is the secretary of the Indian arm of Rhodes Scholarships UK and is a member of the selection committees of such as Inlaks, Felix and Dr. Manmohan Singh scholarships. A former president of the Society of Biological Chemists during 2009-2011, Chauhan is an elected member (1992) of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA), Guha Research Conference and The World Academy of Sciences TWAS. He has served as the president of Indian Peptide Society and as a member of scientific institutions such as New York Academy of Sciences, American Society of Microbiology, Indian Biophysical Society and Indian Immunology Society. He has been a member of the executive councils of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) for their Indo-US Vaccine Action Programme. He has also been a part of other initiatives by Department of Biotechnology, Rotaviral Diarrhoea Vaccine Product Development Project and Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry Programme and has served as the part-time chairman of Bharat Immunologicals and Biologicals Corporation Limited, a vaccine manufacturing company under DBT.

Chauhan has been associated with international bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) as the member of the Expert Advisory Panel on Vaccines and Biological Standards, International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (IUBMB) and Asia-Pacific International Molecular Biology Network (A-IMBN), South Korea, as a member of their Technical Research Groups. He has also been a part of the editorial boards of several national and international journals like International Journal of Biomedical Science, Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology, Journal of Peptide Science, Asian Biotechnology and Development Review, Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences, Indian Journal for Biochemistry and Biophysics, Journal of Molecular Structure and The Open Vaccine Journal.

Virander Chauhan was the leader of the workgroup engaged in the development of a vaccine during his early years in the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. His team is known to have developed a recombinant vaccine, the first time such vaccine developed entirely in India, which is now in its clinical trials stage. His research has also assisted in the understanding of artemisinin and chloroquine, drugs used in the treatment of Malaria. It is also reported to have helped in the development of high throughput screens for the discovery of drugs for Malaria. He has also done research on conventionally defined Peptides, which is of significance for developing antibiotic peptides as well as anti-fibrillizing structures (anti amyloids) that may help in finding treatment protocols for diseases like HIV and Diabetes mellitus type 2. The work has also led to the formation of nanostructures to be used as biomolecule vehicles for site delivery.

Virander Singh Chauhan is known to have guided over 50 research students and is credited with over 200 research papers, published in peer reviewed national and international journals. PubMed, an international knowledge repository, has listed 203 research articles by Chauhan. His papers are also featured on known research databases such as Microsoft Academic Search, PubFacts and Pubget. He has also delivered keynote addresses at many seminars and conferences.

Virander Chauhan, a Rhodes Scholar of 1974 and a Fellow of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS), received Dr. MOT Iyengar Memorial Award from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in 1995. This was followed by Ranbaxy Research Award in 2001, Om Prakash Bhasin Award in 2002 and ICMR Basanti Devi Amir Chand Prize in 2003. He is also a recipient of Raj Kristo Dutt Memorial Award of the Indian Science Congress Association in 2010 and the BioSpectrum Person of the Year Award in 2011. In 2012, the Government of India awarded him the civilian honor of Padma Shri. He also holds the Fellowships of Indian Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, India, and Indian Society for Parasitology.

Controversies have been reported about Chauhan’s stint as the Director of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB). Honey Reddy, a former researcher at ICGEB registered a complaint with the National Commission for Women against Chauhan, in 2007, accusing him of harassment that resulted in her resignation from the institute. P. V. Latitha, a former employee of ICGEB earlier launched a complaint with regard to the authorship of an article published in the journal, Infection and Immunity in which she alleged that Chauhan had deliberately removed her name from the list of authors.

In 2012, a group of 24 scientists out of the 30 working at the institute, sent a letter to the then Director General, Francisco Baralle, demanding the removal of Chauhan from the post of the Director, alleging mismanagement, favouritism and lack of transparency. Baralle, in his reply, informed the complainants that the decision could not be taken without due discussion with the Indian authorities. Spokesman and secretary of the Department of Biotechnology, Krishnaswamy Vijayaraghavan, informed Nature India journal on 28 January 2013 that a detailed investigation would be instituted into the allegations. Later, in November 2013, Madan Mohan, a senior scientist and a Fellow of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, sent a lawyer’s notice to the institute asking for compensation to the tune of US$ 5 million for violation of fundamental rights, mental torture allegedly suffered by him and damage to his reputation.

In December 2013, the board of directors of the institute met to discuss the issues and made a decision to reconstitute the institute, directly under the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India. Subsequently, the reconstitution was effected with K. Vijayaraghavan as the Liaison Officer of the Department of Biotechnology for ICGEB. Virandar Chauhan has since retired from the institute’s service and Sudhir Sopory is its incumbent Interim Director.