Coronavirus India: Serum Institute to make millions of future COVID-19 vaccine doses

ST Staff
Thursday, 30 April 2020

The Serum Institute of India in partnership with Oxford University aims to produce a potential vaccine against the COVID-19 which will be ready for use by September-October

Pune: The Serum Institute of India in partnership with Oxford University aims to produce a potential vaccine against the COVID-19 which will be ready for use by September-October, as the Oxford vaccine reported a success with animals on Tuesday in the US.

The 50-year old company is the World's largest maker of vaccines, making 1.5 billion doses annually and employs over 7,000 workers. It is a manufacturing partner of the Oxford University initiative based in Pune, one of seven such partners worldwide.

Tuesday brought in unprecedented positive news against the devastating COVID-19 pandemic in the world war. Six macaque monkeys were given a trial vaccine from the University of Oxford are coronavirus-free 28 days after being exposed with heavy quantities of the virus.

Human trials with the vaccine also started on April 23, a team headed by Professor Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute at Oxford. Success with animal tests does not guarantee that tests with humans will also succeed.

While the Oxford vaccine called ChAdOx1 COVID-19 is yet to be proven, Serum Institute decided to simultaneously initiate production of the vaccine in India with the hope that trials will be successful. The vaccine is made from a virus (ChAdOx1), a weakened version of a common cold virus (adenovirus) that causes infection in chimpanzees has been genetically modified to ensure that it cannot grow in humans.

The vaccine has been given to as many as 100 potential COVID-19 candidate vaccines who are now under development by biotech and research teams around the world. In at least five of these are in preliminary testing in people in what are known as Phase 1 clinical trials. The vaccine has been shown to be safe and well-tolerated, although it can cause temporary side-effects such as a temperature, headache or sore arm, Oxford University said.

Serum Institute of India chief executive Adar Poonawalla said in an interview on Tuesday that he hopes the Oxford vaccine trials will be successful. The key objective of the initial research was not only to assess whether the vaccine worked but also whether it caused strong immune responses and no undesirable side effects.

Serum, owned by the Indian billionaire Cyrus Poonawalla, plans to produce the vaccine for up to 400 million doses next year at its two production plants in western Pune.

Poonawalla said that the Serum Institute is expected to begin production in May. Distribution, however, can only start if and when successful clinical trials. "The decision was taken solely to have a jump-start on production, to have ample doses for immediate release," he said.

Serum will leave it to the Indian government to determine which countries should get how much of the vaccine and when. At least initially, a majority of the vaccine will have to go to our countrymen before going abroad, said Poonawalla.

The Serum Institute intends to produce 4-5 million doses per month, after which, based on the results of the trials, it could raise production to 10 million doses per month. The production of the vaccine will start in May.

Serum envisages a price of 1,000 rupees per vaccine but governments will give it to people at no cost. Furthermore, in the interview, he said the office of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was "very closely" involved in the manufacture of vaccines and the company hopes that the government would help to foot the cost of producing the vaccine.

Serum has also collaborated with U.S. biotech company Codagenix and Austria's Themis on two other candidates for the COVID-19 vaccine, and expects to announce a fourth partnership in a few weeks.

While 89 companies across the globe are struggling to produce a vaccine, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), seven, including the Oxford University nominee, have progressed to human trials or clinical evaluation stages.

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