An Indian billionaire is putting his millions on a vaccine which might fail

2nd August 2020

2nd August 2020

Adar Poonawalla

It has been more than 4 months since scientists all around the world are trying to find the vaccine for Coronavirus. Among all those scientists there is an Indian billionaire, Adar Poonawalla, Business Executive at Serum Institute of India, who has been gambling his money on the Coronavirus vaccine.

The Serum Institute was founded by Cyrus S. Poonawalla, father of Adar Poonawalla in 1966 in Pune, India to produce life-saving immunobiological drugs including vaccines to serve the world. And since then the institute is controlled by the Poonawalla family only.

And now under the execution of Adar Poonawalla, the only child of the founder, the Serum Institute is trying to mass-produce the doses of Coronavirus vaccine in hundreds of millions. To produce the vaccine, the Institute has collaborated with scientists at Oxford University, who were the first ones to offer hope against the raging pandemic in April.

Poonawalla's assembly lines are working at such a high speed that they are ready to produce 500 doses in a minute on a vaccine they hope would work even though the results on human trials are awaited. As soon as Oxford vaccine in the works had become public in April, Poonawala had announced his Serum company would manufacture the million of doses.

The manufacturing process in the labs of the Serum Institute of India started in early May, when the scientists of Oxford University, U.K. brought a one-milliliter vial of the cellular material of the vaccine which is considered to be most promising in the world in the battle against Covid-19 nightmare. The vial was packed in dry ice in a steel box which was also well-sealed. Sugar and vitamins are then added into a flask to grow billions of cells of the cellular compound which could pin down Coronavirus. And thus begun one of the biggest gambles of producing Coronavirus vaccine.

If this gamble works out into favour for Poonawalla, he would be the man that right now everybody wants to be. A man with the larger quantities of Coronavirus vaccine in his hands, Poonawala might hold the world in his little palm.

But the road is not so simple, to deliver the vaccine to all the consumers, vaccine developers would need to use the largest assembly lines of the Serum Institute which are mostly used to produce 1.5 billion doses each year of other vaccines, and those vaccines are mostly produced for poor countries.

In an exclusive interview with the New York Times, Poonawalla sys he would split the hundreds of millions of the vaccine does 50:50 between India and the rest of the world and importantly, the Modi government has no objection to it.

The vaccine produced by Oxford-Serum combination is the most promising candidate in the race so far. It has taken a gamble, as said, to produce the vaccine, even when it could all end up dud. Poonawalla has put in money from his own pockets, there hasn’t been any funds offered by the Indian government or others, even though in case of other vaccine-chasers, either companies have bought up stakes or the governments have pooled in money.

European and American governments have signed billion-dollar deals with pharmaceutical giants like Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi, AstraZeneca, and Pfizer to manufacture the Oxford scientists’ vaccine for them but the Serum Institute is producing the vaccine on its own risk.

According to New York Times, Poonawalla is "70 to 80 percent" sure that the Oxford scientists' vaccine would work but he also concerned about the rest of the 20%.

He might be 80% right because the initial results of the vaccine have shown that the vaccine is capable of producing the same level of antibodies that were seen in the recovering patients of Coronavirus which is indeed good news.

If the Serum's assembly lines keep on working at the same pace then they would be able to produce a stock of 300 million doses of the vaccine for commercial use. Along with the Oxford vaccine, Serum Institute is working on four other vaccines and if all of them fails then they would manufacture the vaccine produced by a successful candidate.

Poonawalla expects to sell the Oxford vaccine at a profit after the pandemic passes if it works, but he also concerned about covering the $450 million that he has invested in mass-producing the Oxford scientists vaccine.

Analysts around the world have predicted that the supporter of global immunization programs, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Indian government might financially help Serum but its all talk at the moment.

Poonawalla has shown a big heart. You could put it down to eye on profit or a heart which is in the right place. Either way, we are watching. And hoping he succeeds.

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