For decades, the Serum Institute of India has been the discreet provider of vaccines for most babies in the developing world.
But the company has been placed at the forefront of Indian coronavirus diplomacy in an attempt to eclipse regional rival China’s efforts to vaccinate the world.
New Delhi this month donated millions of doses of Oxford / AstraZeneca manufactured by the Serum Institute to six neighboring countries as part of one of the world’s largest vaccine diplomacy efforts.
Although he only starts his own vaccination campaign On January 16, India is determined to use its vast manufacturing capacity to demonstrate scientific power and strengthen bilateral ties. His outreach effort also coincided with efficiency questions Chinese vaccine Sinovac, which eroded confidence in the vaccine.
“In fact, India supplies 70% of the world’s population [with vaccines], especially for the UN, ”said Suresh Jadhav, executive director of the Serum Institute of India. “Looking at the requests from the countries, I don’t see this position changing.”
Chinese companies have waged an aggressive international campaign to sell their Covid-19 vaccines, with two leading manufacturers Sinopharm and Sinovac Biotech signing deals with more than one dozen countries.
The vaccination race comes as tensions between New Delhi and Beijing run high after a violent border shock in June. The border deadlock has put relations between countries under “exceptional stress”, said Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar. Thursday.
Indian pharmaceutical companies have rapidly increased their capacity by responding to calls from countries around the world for inexpensive vaccines. To meet demand, the Serum Institute is expand capacity to 2.5 billion doses per year, of which about 1 billion are reserved for the coronavirus.
Narendra Modi’s government donated millions of doses to neighboring countries, including Bangladesh, which initially had an agreement with China before choosing to sign an agreement with the Serum Institute. New Delhi said future trade deals would likely be made with countries like Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Canada.
“India has the capacity and is using it to build confidence,” said C Raja Mohan, professor of South Asia at the National University of Singapore. “It’s a demonstration of soft power.”
On the impeccably landscaped campus of the Serum Institute in Pune, three hours inland from Mumbai, hedges trimmed in the shape of galloping horses hinted at the company’s equestrian past.
In 1946, the late Soli Poonawalla founded the Haras de Poonawalla and became an eminent breeder of horses before entering the pharmacy.
His son Cyrus, the company’s chairman and CEO, founded the Serum Institute in 1966. He has since increased his personal net worth to $ 11.5 billion, according to Forbes.
Adar, his son and managing director, helped expand the private enterprise to 140 countries, accounting for the bulk of his $ 850 million in annual revenue.
The Serum Institute has signed agreements to produce 1 billion doses of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine for low- and middle-income countries and 1 billion doses of the vaccine Novavax vaccine.
Other Indian companies have the capacity to produce hundreds of millions of additional doses of different jabs, with Hyderabad-based Biological E partnering with Johnson & Johnson and Indian companies Bharat Biotech and Zydus Cadila producing their own candidates.
But the Serum Institute’s ability to sell the vaccine, which sells in India for around $ 3 per vaccine, is limited by its deal with AstraZeneca, which has distribution rights in developed countries.
“Several governments have contacted us directly,” Jadhav said, adding that he had received inquiries from countries in Europe, the Middle East and South East Asia. “But because of territories and contractual obligations, we’ll see how we can best help them.”
The Serum Institute factory was buzzing during a visit to the factory in January as vaccine vials were filled and capped. Every minute, 500 vials were filled by machines imported from Germany and Italy, supervised by workers wearing white PPE coveralls.
If India has vast ambitions for its vaccines on the world stage, the reception at home has been mixed. Covaxin, the vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech, was approved for emergency use without phase 3 trial data, which drew criticism that the process was rushed.
During the Financial Times visit to the Serum Institute, a fire broke out Killing five people at the Manjri construction site, which will be used for future production of tuberculosis and rotavirus vaccines.
But analysts said the disaster is unlikely to reduce the company’s appetite for vaccines. “The Serum Institute is quite well known, it already manufactures and distributes,” said Shrikant Akolkar, pharmaceutical analyst at Ashika Stock Broking in Mumbai, while admitting the incident was concerning.
Dr Umesh Shaligram, director of research and development at the Serum Institute, said India’s track record in providing safe vaccines gives it an advantage over rivals. “I don’t foresee any competition from Russia and China.”
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