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More COVID vaccine supplies lined up as India gets ready for Phase 3 drive

As India enters phase-III of Covid-19 vaccination, in which around 270 million people are to be inoculated, firms are looking to ramp up capacities at their production units.

Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer that produced 1.5 billion doses last fiscal, is ramping up its capacity (including non-Covid vaccines) to 2.5 billion by the end of 2021. Of this, around two billion doses is expected by June.

Similarly, Bharat Biotech is on track to have 150 million doses ready by June. It would have annual capacity of 500 million doses this year, and can add another 200 million based on demand. Dr Reddy’s Laboratories (DRL) has also lined up 125 million patient doses in 2021, or 250 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine (each person needs two shots) from partner sites.

Ahmedabad-headquartered Cadila Healthcare, too, can make 150 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, including supplies from partners. It has two candidates in fray. The ZyCoV-D is in phase-III clinical trials and can remain stable at room temperature, while its measles-vector-based vaccine is now in phase-I/II trials.

Serum Institute is now making about 50 million doses per month as its export shipments are rising. A source added that the emergency use licensing (EUL) from the World Health Organization (WHO) is likely to come in this week.

“After this, the supplies can begin for Covax. We have committed 200 million doses to Covax so far,” said the source. Talks are on to supply an additional 300-400 million doses.

SII has an inventory of around 50 million doses, and has supplied 21 million doses to the Indian government, part of which has been shipped by the government to neighbouring countries. SII Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla has said the firm will supply around 100 million doses to the government at Rs 200 per dose (plus taxes). The firm is now ramping up its capacity by 30 per cent.

“For phase-3 of vaccination, India would need 540 million doses. Assuming everyone does not volunteer for the jab, even then there is a need for 220-240 million doses in the next few months,” said one of the vaccine makers. Demand from the government will start to pick up now, the person added.

Bharat Biotech has supplied 10 million doses to the government of the 20 million doses it had ready. It is also exporting to countries like Brazil, but clarified that exports are now either through the Indian government or with its prior approval.

The firm would have 150 million doses ready by around July. It aims to have at least 500 million doses in 2021 from four facilities — three in Hyderabad and one in Bengaluru. “If required, another 200 million doses can be added this year,” a source clarified.

DRL, which is set to seek emergency use approval in March for the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, has lined up 250 million doses for Indian citizens over the next 12 months. One of its partners, Hetero, will make over 100 million doses, while another partner site would provide the rest. DRL expects to be able to launch the vaccine in March, coinciding with phase-3 of inoculation.

Zydus Cadila has capacity to make 100 million doses of its vaccine, which is in the final stages before it gets regulatory nod. The vaccine, which may find takers in India thanks to its stability at room temperature, is now in phase-3 trials. Zydus aims to have around 150-170 million doses, including from partners.

Additionally, firms like Wockhardt and Indian Immunologicals are ready with capacities to fill-and-finish vaccines for others. Hyderabad-based Indian Immunologicals has begun work on increasing its vaccine making capacity by 35 per cent. It has also begun work on a viral antigen making plant at Genome Valley in Hyderabad, which will raise capacity by 35 per cent and would come onstream by October.

Wockhardt’s Aurangabad site can make biological drugs that can be used to make certain types of vaccines. The company works on expression platforms such as yeast, e-coli and mammalian cells to produce biologic products. These platforms are used by vaccine makers, too. The site has a capacity to make one billion doses of vaccines if required.

Animal vaccine player Hester Biosciences has spare capacity at its Nepal site. Rajiv Gandhi, CEO and MD, Hester Biosciences, said the Nepal plant is operating at 25 per cent capacity, and can easily be used to contract manufacture any candidate that emerges successful first.

“We can also enhance capacity easily without much investment. We will definitely chip in to scale India’s manufacturing of the vaccine,” Gandhi said.

Business Standard