Serum to launch 5 COVID-19 vaccines by 2021 end; floats new firm

Serum has floated a new company Serum Institute Life Sciences (SILS) that will exclusively focus on developing, producing and supplying pandemic vaccines

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Key Highlights:

  • Covishield, Covovax, COVIVAXX, COVI-VAC and SII COVAX - the five vaccines in the making
  • To launch one new COVID-19 vaccine every quarter in 2021-22
  • Floats new company Serum Institute Life Sciences only to make pandemic vaccines
  • New company SILS to invest Rs 3,000 crore
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gavi Alliance jointly grant $300 million to SILS

The world's largest vaccine maker by volume, Serum Institute of India (SII), is readying one billion doses of five different COVID-19 vaccines worldwide before the end of 2021-22.

"The plan is to launch at least one vaccine every quarter beginning with Covishield, which we licensed from AstraZeneca, likely by start of 2021," says Adar Poonawala in an exclusive interaction with BusinessToday.In.

Covishield, developed at the Jenner Institute of the Oxford University in the UK and licensed from Anglo Swedish drug maker AstraZeneca, is currently undergoing the final phase of clinical trials in India among nearly 1,600 people. It is expected to be launched in the first quarter of next year and if clearances are given early, the immunisation can start by January. "We are already making 20-30 million doses and can increase the production to 70-80 million a month. Currently, we are consciously producing less considering the shelf life of the vaccine," says Poonawala.  

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The second vaccine from SILS is likely to be Covovax, a spike protein vaccine being developed in association with biotech firm Novovax. Its Phase-1 clinical trial began in May 2020 in Australia and it is currently into the second phase of development. Phase-3 clinical trial with up to 30,000 subjects should begin in the fall of 2020. Novovax, has an arrangement with Serum Institute of India to produce one billion doses of the vaccine in 2021, including at a facility it bought in Czech Republic from SII early this year.  

Serum has floated a new company Serum Institute Life Sciences (SILS) that will exclusively focus on developing, producing and supplying pandemic vaccines. SILS is owned by the Pune-based billionaire Cyrus Poonawala and his son Adar Poonawala - who will be the chairman and managing director of the new company. "The new manufacturing facility is coming up adjacent to the SII facility in Pune and it will take two years for completion. Until then, SILS will outsource the capacity of SII," says Poonawala.

The privately held company has already invested 70 per cent of the Rs 3,000 crore capex required in land, buildings, plants, raw materials and other related infrastructure, adds Poonawala.  

For this, the SII will defer its earlier expansion plans to develop a few new vaccines for the US and European markets. "Once completed, between SII and SILS, we will have a capacity to manufacture over 2.3 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines, provided there is demand and requirement."   

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had provided at-risk funding of $150 million to support Serum's manufacturing of two promising vaccines by University of Oxford and Novavax. The funding was doubled with Gavi Vaccine Alliance coming on board. "The $300 million-plus internal funding is adequate to meet the capex for now," says Poonawala.

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