Pune-based Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, has collaborated with two American companies to develop a Covid-19 vaccine. In an exclusive interview, its CEO Adar C. Poonawalla talks about how the development is progressing and how he is planning to make the vaccine in India.
Q/ Your company is working on developing a Covid-19 vaccine. How soon will you be able to do it?
A/ We have tied up with two companies in the US to develop the Covid-19 vaccine. It is progressing well. One of the companies tied up with us has already started testing the vaccine candidates in animals. Further development would depend on which country will allow us to conduct human trials the fastest. Once that is done, we will decide on the further steps on the road. We are willing to go to another country for conducting clinical trials. We are likely to get the animal trials data in the next few months. All these will take a year and a half, if not two, until the vaccine is developed.
Q/ What prompted you to initiate the development of the Covid-19 vaccine?
A/ We have the expertise in developing multiple vaccines and we currently produce around 1.5 billion doses of vaccines annually. It was our own initiative to collaborate with different players and develop the (Covid-19) vaccine as we felt the need to develop it given the present situation and the fast-spreading virus. I have always been passionate about expansion by developing new vaccines for global outbreaks. The Covid-19 vaccine will be the first of its kind to be made in India.
Q/ How do you expect to scale up its production?
A/ We have got a tie-up with Codagenix in New York. We have plans to do the scale up and the manufacturing of Covid-19 vaccine ourselves here in India. However, before doing that we will have to prove this vaccine in human trials, which I feel is still far away.
Q/ Your company is the largest manufacturer of vaccines in the world. But the Indian market is still under-penetrated. Is not it a concern?
A/ The Indian market is under-penetrated mainly because adults do not vaccinate themselves. This is an untapped opportunity. If you closely look at the scenario, 80 per cent of the vaccines sold in India are for children. This is in great contrast to the global scenario where the ratio is nearly 50:50.
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Q/ What can be done to control the high cost of vaccines in India?
A/ If you notice, India is the only big pharmaceutical market where vaccines are sold at a high price. However, the fact is, all the vaccines manufactured by Indian vaccine manufacturers are usually sold for half the price or even less compared with the vaccines produced by manufacturers from overseas and imported into India. Indian vaccine manufacturing companies currently produce about 80 per cent of different types of vaccines that are required in the country. We hope that in the next three years India will be 100 per cent self-sufficient in vaccine production.
Q/ What kind of R&D is being done by Serum Institute of India?
A/ We lay strong emphasis on having world-class R&D as that is essential for the development of new vaccines. We spend more than 0600 crore a year on R&D. With this expenditure, we perform clinical trials for the vaccines developed and we do research for the development of new vaccines. We have a robust R&D team and have hundreds of scientists working at our centre in Pune and have had immense success in developing vaccines for meningitis, pneumococcal, dengue, yellow fever and now, of course, the coronavirus. In addition to this, we have also partnered parties from the US for the development of new vaccines.