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Suchitra Ella: The Vaccine Lady

Suchitra Ella: The Vaccine Lady

Suchitra Ella drove Bharat Biotech to develop India's first indigenous vaccine to fight Covid-19, and she's not finished yet

Suchitra Ella, 58, Joint Managing Director, Bharat Biotech International Limited Suchitra Ella, 58, Joint Managing Director, Bharat Biotech International Limited

In 1995, Indian youngsters were still flocking to the US for further studies. This was five years before Y2K and the subsequent boom in the demand for IT professionals. At that point, coming back to India was inconceivable. But Suchitra and Krishna Ella were different. Suchitra was in the marketing department of a large multinational, and Krishna was pursuing his PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Soon after, they returned to India and launched Bharat Biotech, which now has over 2,500 employees.

Over the years, Bharat Biotech has delivered vaccines globally for hepatitis B, influenza H1N1, rotavirus, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, chikungunya, zika, and the world's first tetanus-toxoid conjugated vaccine for typhoid. "Foresight is a key attribute in the field of science. Vaccinology is all about foreseeing an emergency and preparing ahead. We had manufactured a vaccine for H1N1 during 2009 and proved our ability to predict infectious diseases and prepare for them," says Suchitra Ella.

Nothing, though, matches the pandemic in intensity, and Bharat Biotech's development of Covaxin, India's first vaccine to fight Covid-19, is the company's high point. "Given the challenging nature of the project and the tough timelines, it was like taking the bull by its horns," says Ella, before mentioning the journey of bringing the strain from NIV Pune to Bharat Biotech's facility at Genome Valley in Hyderabad "in the midst of strict lockdown".

Work is now underway on a Covid-19 intranasal vaccine in collaboration with Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Suchitra Ella is not about to take a break.

@krishnagopalan