Interview | Adar Poonawalla Other States

‘There is no slowdown in the vaccine manufacturing sector’

Serum Institute CEO on new plant and the ‘power of vaccines’

A new vaccine production plant of the Serum Institute of India (SII) in Pune’s Manjri area is all set to start operations from November to scale up production and cater to new markets. The SII’s 38-year-old chief executive officer, Adar Poonawalla, is visibly thrilled about the new facility and his new office— an Airbus A320. He refuses to divulge more about the aircraft, but says he will unveil it in the next two months when it is ready. The vaccine maker has a new monoclonal antibody injection and a preventive vaccine for dengue in the pipeline, along with other upcoming formulations. The Hindu chats with Mr. Poonawalla about the vaccines and challenges in the sector.

What will be the focus of the new plant?

Our new plant will employ more than 3,000 people and we have already invested over ₹3,000 crore in it. The idea of the plant is not only to add capacity to our existing vaccines, but also [introduce] new vaccines like human papillomavirus (HPV), pneumonia, malaria, dengue to name a few. This is the first vaccine plant in India which will cater to the U.S. and European markets. So the highest standards, all quality norms, equipment, and processes are in place. It will make about 500 million doses eventually over the next four years as we scale it up. This is going to be the single largest site in the world to make vaccines.

You mentioned that your sector has not witnessed any slowdown. Can you elaborate?

We are in the business of saving lives, and essential products are always needed whether there is a recession or not. The Indian government and the world has recognised that the most cost-effective way of saving a life is better than treating in hospitals, where the costs are much more. By just giving a cheap vaccine, you can protect yourself for 10 years or more. Our prime minister and the health minister truly understand the power of vaccines. So, our sector is not slowing down, it is in fact growing.

Many people are not comfortable with the concept of vaccination yet. Didn’t SII have a tough time selling a flu vaccine?

Adults don’t like to take vaccines. Their attitude is mostly like ‘we will get treated when it happens’. Flu is a major killer. The hospitalisation cost, for something like H1N1 for example, is huge. Instead, you can take a vaccine for ₹200 and avoid it. My fear is that if I make a vaccine for dengue, even if people are afraid of the disease, they may not take it. We need to change this attitude and create more awareness.

What are the major challenges that the sector is facing?

We have proposed to further turbocharge the sector by policy changes for ease of doing business, better online regulatory reforms and many other things that we are going to be put to the health minister. We want faster regulatory approvals and single-window clearances. We are also proposing Make In India — if you are a foreign company or a domestic company, you have produce in India in order to participate in tenders and do business in India. We are now properly voicing our concerns through the Indian Vaccine Manufacturers Association.

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Printable version | Jun 6, 2020 4:43:25 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/there-is-no-slowdown-in-the-vaccine-manufacturing-sector/article29387014.ece

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