SII decided to bet early to save lives: Adar Poonawalla

Serum Institute of India decided to bet early on Covid-19 vaccine to save lives: Adar Poonawalla

Poonawalla said that he began to focus on creating mass capacity for a pandemic soon after he took over as the CEO of SII

Adar Poonawalla, CEO, Serum Institute of India. Credit: SII

Adar Poonawalla set out to double the capacity of Serum Institute of India (SII) way back in 2011 and today it is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by volume. 

At the 18th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on November 19, Poonawalla said that he began to focus on creating mass capacity for a pandemic after he took over as the CEO of SII. 

“I wanted to prepare for a pandemic level event ever since I heard Bill Gates say at a Ted talk that we should probably be more worried and be spending more funds on this kind of a threat than on nuclear or space programmes,” he said.

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According to a report by The Hindustan Times, SII was among the first firms to commit to producing billions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines. In June, SII had signed a deal for the production of a billion doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine candidate. “I felt it was my moral responsibility to take the decision then because if I didn’t, countless lives would be lost next year,” the publication quoted him as saying.

Stressing that it was important to take the decision at an early stage, Poonawalla added, “Because if I took the decision now at this stage, when we know the vaccine is going to produce good results, we will have lost six months of hundreds of millions of doses which would then become available at the end of the year instead of early on."

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The phase-3 trial of the Oxford vaccine of the Serum Institute is almost near completion. SII and ICMR are conducting clinical trials of the vaccine at 15 different centres across the country.

SII has also announced deals with two other American firms Novavax and Codagenix.

“We had no choice but to take a chance early, to bet and commit so that lives are not lost. We made a scientific decision to select the partners that we did. It was stressful and we worked at a record pace, sourcing equipment and manpower in record time,” the entrepreneur said.

Five vaccine candidates are currently undergoing clinical trials in India. Among them, three that are in advanced stages of trials -- the Oxford-AstraZeneca candidate for which the Pune-based Serum Institute is conducting Phase 3 clinical trials, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin which is also in Phase 3, and Russia’s Sputnik V which is expected to start Phase 2/3 trials next week.

(With agency inputs)