With global pharma companies ramping up production of their respective vaccines, there is one firm that has already moved into the leading position.
Even though the Serum Institute of India (SII) is not a household name, it is the largest vaccine maker of the world. The firm’s huge manufacturing plant in Pune in Western India manufactures about 1.5 billion doses of vaccines every year. The company currently is manufacturing Covid-19 vaccines under license for pharmaceutical firms such as AstraZeneca.
“We took a huge calculated risk”, by investing money and resources on a number of vaccines in 2020 even before regulators had approved of them for usage, said SII’s chief executive Adar Poonawalla. “It wasn’t a blind risk, because we knew the Oxford scientists from our earlier collaboration with the malaria vaccine.”
The fact that the firm is privately owned helped it to take decisions quickly – primarily being discussed between Poonawalla and the company’s scientists.
However finding such ambitions was a challenge. While investing as much as $260m on its own, it raised the rest from philanthropists such as Bill Gates as well as advances from other countries interested to purchase the vaccines.
By May of 2020, the company had sevured funding worth $800m which it invested in making multiple Covid-19 vaccines.
The planning for Poonawalla started in April 2020 when he worked out the resources the company would need – from vials and filters, and therefore the funding.
“I got 600 million doses worth of glass vials ahead of time and locked it in my warehouse by September,” he explained. “The most important part that enabled us to have so many doses – 70-80 million in January – was because I started manufacturing at risk in August.”
“I wish other companies also had taken that risk, because the world would have had many more doses.”
The lacklustre global regulatory systems and lack of harmonisation were criticised by Poonawalla for causing production delays.
There could have been a unified decision on a quality standard between the major regulators of the world – including the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA, he said.
Further, there could also have been unity and agreement for a standard international benchmark between the various national governments, Poonawalla also rued and claimed that this should have been the path taken by the regulators in the countries that are manufacturing the Covid-19 vaccines – from India to Europe.
“Why can’t we still harmonise it and save all this time, especially even for the new vaccines. I’d hate to have to go through all this again.”
Concerns about the new variants of the novel coronavirus that have been identified recently were played down by Poonawalla.
“Anyone who has taken that [Oxford AstraZeneca] vaccine so far hasn’t had to go to hospital or go on a ventilator and had their life at risk. They’ve also passed that disease on to others. So yes, it’s not an ideal situation, but it has protected your life,” he said.
(Adapted from BBC.com)