Oxford COVID-19 vaccine at least 6 months away from launch: Serum Institute CEO

Taking samples: A health worker collecting samples from a woman as others wait to be tested in New Delhi.   | Photo Credit: PTI

The Oxford COVID-19 vaccine is at least six months away from its launch, said Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) on Tuesday, while remarking that the SII would not rush until the vaccine was tested on humans for safety and efficacy.

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“Recently, there was news about a vaccine candidate [referring to Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin being pushed by the Indian Council of Medical Research] being rushed to expedite the vaccine testing process…We are in no such hurry. It will be at least six months until we launch our vaccine,” said Mr. Poonawalla, emphasising that SII’s objective was to provide a safe and efficient vaccine.

The Oxford COVID-19 vaccine trial is currently in its Phase 3 or human trial stage, and will be administered to around 8,000 people in the U.K.

Mr. Poonawalla was speaking at the unveiling of Pune-based molecular diagnostics company Mylab’s ‘Compact XL’ — touted as India’s first fully-automated Sample-to-PCR-ready system for molecular diagnostics. The machine is designed to automate lab operations from sample handling to RT-PCR ready tube preparation, and perform these operations on a single, compact bench-top machine.

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The SII CEO further called on the Central government to have a rethink on its testing policy.

‘Not testing enough’

“We are certainly not testing enough. The government has placed a number of barriers for testing, like securing a doctor’s prescription or telling asymptomatic patients that they had no business getting tested. We feel the government should review its policy on this,” Mr. Poonawalla said.

Citing the example of Bajaj Auto, where 250 of its employees had recently tested positive for COVID-19, he further said that corporates, especially manufacturing companies who were keen to resume operations, were in dire straits as current rules don’t allow for testing of the whole workforce.

Bajaj Auto’s unions have been demanding the temporary closure of its Waluj unit in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad district after several employees tested positive.

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“While more testing may result in an increase in cases, it allows one to treat patients early on and reduce deaths. We, too, want to test our workforce of more than 5,000 employees at the Serum Institute, but how do we do it with current regulations?” Mr. Poonawalla asked.

‘Allow export of kits’

He further urged the Central government to allow exports of test kits after building sufficient buffer, remarking that entrepreneurs had moved so fast with these capacities that there was no place to sell them.

In April this year, Mylab Discovery Solutions, which became the first indigenous manufacturer to secure commercial approval for deploying its kits for COVID-19 testing, had tied up with SII and AP Globale to escalate the delivery of these kits to combat the contagion.

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While Mylab — which is offering its test kit at less than ₹1,000 — has the capacity to produce about two million RT-PCR test kits per week, it is producing less than half owing to the low rate of testing.

Commenting on Mylab’s ‘Compact XL’, Mr. Poonawalla said that setting up a lab for RT-PCR tests like COVID-19 would henceforth be easier and affordable.

‘Most ambitious project’

“To make India self-reliant in advanced diagnostics, Compact XL is our most ambitious project to date. It will replace the need for a 700 sq. ft. of clean room lab with a bench-top machine and reduce the need of three-four expert technicians to just one, thus saving operational costs for labs,” said Hasmukh Rawal, MD, Mylab Discovery Solutions.

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Printable version | Sep 18, 2021 1:20:34 PM |

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