The institute, the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines by volume, is working on several candidates, including potentially mass-producing the AstraZeneca/Oxford University one, as well as developing its own.
The efforts are partly being shepherded by Umesh Shaligram, the R&D head. The institute is a private company but every day, shortly before midnight, he receives a WhatsApp message from the government asking for updates.
“We have begun to see approvals come through in days, even on a Sunday night, for trials and things like that,” he said, noting some of these processes typically took four to six months.
India quietly plays a key role in manufacturing 60%-70% of all vaccines sold globally with the Serum Institute playing a lead role, said the company’s Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla.
Mr. Poonawalla, whose family owns the vaccine maker, said scientists, drugmakers and manufacturers were collaborating at an unparalleled scale to spur development and availability. “We are all in a race to battle the disease, there is no one-upmanship here,” he said.
Serum has partnered with U.S. biotech firm Codagenix, its U.S. rival Novavax and Austria’s Themis to potentially manufacture three COVID-19 vaccine candidates.
Another candidate in the works is the experimental vaccine developed by a team at the University of Oxford and now licensed to drugmaker AstraZeneca, with whom Serum is in talks to mass produce the vaccine, which is now in the clinical trial stage.
The United States has secured almost a third of the first 1 billion doses planned for the potential vaccine, initially known as ChAdOx1 and now as AZD1222, by pledging up to $1.2 billion.
Mr. Poonawalla aims to initially produce 4-5 million doses a month, beginning from June, and then gradually ramp up to 350-400 million doses a year.
“Hopefully we will build a stock of a few million doses to give to our country and other high-risk areas across the globe come October-November when the trials ought to be concluded,” the 39-year-old said.
He had been given to understand by the development team that the trials had an 80% chance of success, given that the vaccine is based on a tried-and-tested platform. Based on the information currently available, he said he anticipated AZD1222 would be a single-dose vaccine and not require a booster dose.
He sees AZD1222 potentially priced at about ₹1,000.