At this time of the pandemic, many businesses have taken some risky decisions to remain afloat. But Cyrus Poonawalla-founded Serum Institute of India (SII) has taken a risk to scale up production of COVID-19 vaccine to supply vaccines to the world at the earliest. To achieve scaling of the Oxford vaccine Covishield, the company has invested a whopping sum of USD 200 million (Rs 1,492 crore).
Covishield is still under trial, however, SII felt waiting for the trial to finish meant a loss of five-six months. SII is well aware that if the vaccine does not pass the human trials, the company will have to throw away all the doses that it has produced.
In an interview to NDTV, Adar Poonawalla, CEO of SII said, “It will be a write-off of USD 200 million (if the vaccine fails) which was not an easy decision to make. My father (Cyrus), the Board of Serum Institute of India and I decided to commit to the world and India. Otherwise, another five-six months will be wasted before the vaccines will be available. Thus, we decided to take the risk and jump into it.”
He also added the success of the vaccine will only be known by October-November. Adar added, “I would either go into a loss with the product that is made or go on to the next candidate or we continue to scale up Astrazeneca vaccine.”
At present, the company is trying to submit their proposals to Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) to receive permissions for Phase II/III trials in India. The company is hoping to get Phase III trials done in India by August. Adar added, “This (proposal) will be based on the data that is coming from Oxford (University).” Around 1,000 people participated in the trial. While 500 have been vaccinated, 500 were under placebo-controlled trials.
“We hope to launch the vaccine by November,” Adar added. Even after the launch in November, it will take two years for everyone in India to be vaccinated. He added this is the case if there is no other vaccine candidate comes up and also, the logistics issues of getting people in rural India vaccinated. He also stated the three-four million vaccines produced per month will not be enough as 50 per cent of the doses produced will come to India and rest 50 per cent will be supplied to the rest of the world.