US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that India and the United States are working together to develop vaccines against the coronavirus.
Mr. Pompeo’s remark was not entirely a surprise.
The two countries have managed a internationally recognized joint vaccine development program for more than three decades.
They worked on stopping dengue fever, enteric disease, the flu and tuberculosis. Dengue vaccine trials are planned for the near future.
India is one of the largest manufacturers of generic drugs and vaccines in the world. It is home to half a dozen major vaccine manufacturers and a multitude of smaller manufacturers, among other diseases, for polio, meningitis, pneumonia, rotavirus, BCG, measles, mumps and rubella.
Today, half a dozen Indian companies are developing vaccines against the virus that causes Covid-19.
One of them is the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by the number of doses produced and sold worldwide. The 53-year-old company produces 1.5 billion doses each year, mostly from its two facilities in the western city of Pune. (He has two other small factories in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.) About 7,000 people work for the company.
The company supplies around twenty vaccines to 165 countries. Some 80% of its vaccines are exported and, at an average of 50 cents per dose, they are among the cheapest in the world.
Now, the company has partnered with Codagenix, an American biotechnology company, to develop a “live attenuated” vaccine, among the more than 80 that are said to be in development worldwide.
This vaccine is created by reducing the virulence – or removing harmful properties – of a pathogen while keeping it alive. (They do not cause any illness or very mild illness because the pathogen is weakened under laboratory conditions.)
“We are planning a series of animal trials [on mice and primates] of this vaccine in April. By September, we should be able to start testing humans, “Adar Poonawalla, director general of the Serum Institute of India, told me by phone.
Mr. Poonawalla’s company has also teamed up to mass produce a vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and supported by the British government. A genetically modified chimpanzee virus would form the basis of the new vaccine. Human clinical trials began Thursday in Oxford. If all goes well, scientists hope to make at least a million doses by September.
“It’s pretty clear that the world will need hundreds of millions of doses, ideally by the end of this year, to end this pandemic, to get us out of containment,” said Professor Adrian Hill, who is leading the Jenner Institute at Oxford. BBC Health and Science correspondent James Gallagher.
This is where Indian vaccine manufacturers have a head start over the others. Mr. Poonawalla’s company alone has an additional capacity of 400 to 500 million doses. “We have a lot of capacity because we have invested in it,” he says.
There is more. Bharat Biotech, based in Hyderabad, had announced a partnership with the University of Wisconsin Madison and the American company FluGen to manufacture nearly 300 million doses of a vaccine for worldwide distribution. Zydus Cadilla is working on two vaccines, while Biological E, Indian Immunologicals and Mynvax are each developing one vaccine. Four or five other locally grown vaccines are in the early stages of development.
“The credit must go to entrepreneurs and pharmaceutical companies who have invested in quality manufacturing and in the processes that have made it possible to produce in bulk. The owners of these companies have also had the goal of doing good to the world, while running a successful business. and this model is win-win for everyone, “said Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO).
Experts warn that people should not expect a vaccine on the market anytime soon.
David Nabbaro, professor of global health at Imperial College London, says humans will have to live with the coronavirus threat “for the foreseeable future” because there is no guarantee that a vaccine will be successfully developed.
And Tim Lahey, a vaccine researcher at the University of Vermont Medical Center, warns that there is “good reason to worry that a coronavirus vaccine will also trigger harmful immune responses.”
Global Covid-19 infections have already exceeded 2.5 million people, with more than 177,000 deaths. It will take a long time to develop a safe, mass-produced vaccine – each batch must be tested chemically and biologically before being released. “But we are hopeful that we will have a safe and effective vaccine in two years or less,” said Poonawalla.
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