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Opinion

Serum Institute Director Says India Will Receive 100 Million Astra Injections Next Month

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The world’s largest vaccine maker is ramping up production of AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid-19 injection, with the goal of having 100 million doses ready by December for an inoculation campaign that could start across India later that month.

If the data from the end-stage trial shows that AstraZeneca’s candidate provides effective protection against the virus, the Serum Institute of India Ltd., which partnered to produce at least 1 billion doses, could get an emergency clearance from New Delhi in December, Adar Poonawalla said. , CEO of the family business based in the western city of Pune.

That initial amount will go to India, Poonawalla said in an interview Thursday. Full approval early next year will allow distribution on a 50-50 basis with the South Asian nation and Covax, the World Health Organization-backed body that is buying injections for poor nations. Serum, which has partnered with five developers, has so far manufactured 40 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in the past two months and aims to soon begin manufacturing competitor Novavax Inc.

“We were a little concerned that it was a big risk,” said Poonawalla, 39. But the AstraZeneca and Novavax shots “look pretty good.”

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The rush underscores Poonawalla’s confidence in one of the leading vaccine pioneers. AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot has said that he is preparing for the possibility of large-scale vaccines starting in December and once the UK grants its own emergency license, Serum will send that same data to its Indian counterparts.

Drug manufacturers are only now getting data that will show how well their vaccine candidates work, but many hurdles remain as the global race to find an effective vaccine against the pathogen reaches its final stages. Astra and the Oxford University co-developer still need to see the test results. And even if your vaccine proves effective and gets the go-ahead from regulators, there are questions about how easily and quickly the injection can be delivered.

Poonawalla reiterated that it will take until 2024 to vaccinate everyone and two years to see a real reduction in infections, due to affordability and manufacturing hurdles.

After speaking with the government, Poonawalla said she is confident in their plans to bring the initial vaccines to front-line and vulnerable workers. The challenge will be to bring it to India’s 1.3 billion population, especially in the vast countryside where past vaccination campaigns have struggled due to patchy health networks.

He said AstraZeneca has a significant advantage over a rival candidate from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, which made headlines this week after stating that it was more than 90% effective in stopping Covid-19 infections. An expensive cold chain infrastructure is needed to transport and store that vaccine at -70 degrees Celsius. Poonawalla said it was “simply impossible” for most of the world to use them on a large scale, compared to what his company will produce and which can be stored at refrigerator temperatures.

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“I don’t think even 90% of the countries can accept it, because there are simply no freezers everywhere,” he said of the Pfizer injection. “In a pandemic, always remember that simplicity is the key.”

For India, which has struggled to contain the world’s second-largest Covid outbreak, negotiations with the Serum Institute on the price of vaccines will be critical to the country’s efforts to emerge from the pandemic.

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New Delhi has set aside about 500 billion rupees ($ 6.7 billion) for vaccines, people with knowledge of the matter said last month. However, in September, Poonawalla argued that India would need Rs 800 billion. Poonawalla declined to comment further.

Poonawalla is making a big financial gamble. Operating in the world of low-margin, mass-volume vaccines, the Serum Institute, founded in 1966 by Poonawalla’s billionaire father, Cyrus, supplies 170 countries with more than 1 billion vaccines a year for diseases such as measles and mumps. .

About $ 300 million of the company’s money has been invested in initial production, Poonawalla said. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi, the vaccine alliance, have also contributed $ 300 million this year, earmarking 200 million doses for the Covax effort. That leaves around $ 200 million to cover Serum’s planned expenses.

“I don’t need it all right now, the capital we have deployed is already enough,” Poonawalla said, adding that pre-orders recently signed with countries like Bangladesh should fill the gap. Serum is also in talks with India for an advanced engagement. “I think that in the next month or two I will be fully capitalized.”

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