Covaxin capacity scaled up to 500 million doses a year: Bharat Biotech

Bharat Biotech supplied 20 million doses to the “national roll-out” in April
Hyderabad-based vaccine maker Bharat Biotech in April expanded its Covaxin-manufacturing capacity to 500 million doses a year, the company said on Sunday.

It supplied 20 million doses to the “national roll-out” in April.

In a tweet, Suchitra Ella, joint managing director of Bharat Biotech, said: “To our supporters and critics, ever since the start of the pandemic, team Bharat Biotech has been diligently developing Covaxin and scaling up manufacturing capacities to meet global and public health requirements.”

In the same tweet, Ella also pointed out that Covaxin neutralises key emerging strains of the Sars-CoV-2 virus, including the double mutant B.1.617 and B.1.1.7-- identified in India and the UK.

She gave a timeline capturing Covaxin’s journey.

“The manufacturing scale-up has been carried out in a stepwise manner across multiple facilities at Hyderabad and Bengaluru. Inactivated vaccines, while highly safe, are extremely complex and expensive to manufacture, resulting in lower yields when compared to live virus vaccines,” the company had noted in April. 

A company source said: “The Bengaluru facility is getting re-purposed, and that will add another 200 million doses annually when completed. We are targeting 700 million doses a year.”

The Union health ministry last week said it had procured or was in process of procuring 356 million doses of Covid vaccines including Covishield (276 million) and Covaxin (80 million). The orders have been in tranches -- for phase 2 the Central government gave orders for 20 million doses of Covaxin, of which 86 per cent has been received and the rest will come by the end of May. And for 50 million doses of Covaxin for phase 3 of Covid vaccination, the deliveries will happen between May and July.

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This apart, to further increase capacities, Bharat Biotech has partnered Indian Immunologicals (IIL) to manufacture the drug substance for Covaxin. The company has said the technology transfer process is underway and IIL has the “capabilities and expertise” to manufacture the inactivated viral vaccines at commercial scale. Bharat Biotech is also exploring manufacturing partnerships in other countries.

Last month, Centre said it was providing a Rs 65-crore grant to re-purpose the Bengaluru facility.

Three public sector undertakings (PSUs) are being upgraded with the required infrastructure -- Mumbai-based Haffkine Biopharmaceutical Corporation; Indian Immunologicals, a National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) unit; and Bharat Immunologicals and Biologicals Ltd (BIBCOL), Bulandshahr, a Central PSU under the Department of Biotechnology.

Haffkine Biopharmaceutical Corporation, a PSU under the Maharashtra government, is receiving financial support of Rs 65 crore to set up a manufacturing facility that can make 20 million doses per month. Indian Immunologicals and BIBCOL will also make 10-15 million doses per month by August-September.

Meanwhile, Ahmedabad-based Hester Biosciences has said that a triparty consortium has been formed with the Gujarat government as the lead partner to explore the prospects of manufacturing the Covid vaccine through technology from Bharat Biotech.

“Discussions are on with Bharat Biotech towards reviewing the infrastructure at Hester, the technology adaption process, and the regulatory compliances. Based on the outcome of the review, the next course of action will be determined,” Hester said.

On Covaxin neutralising the key emerging variants of Sars-CoV-2, Ella said no difference in neutralisation was observed between B.1.1.7 (first isolated in the UK) and vaccine strain (D614G), which was used to develop Covaxin. She cited a study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Ella tweeted: “A modest reduction in neutralisation by a factor of 1.95 was observed against the B.1.617 variant compared to the vaccine variant (D614G). Despite this reduction, neutralising titre levels with B.1.617 remain above levels expected to be protective.”

Samiran Panda, head of epidemiology and communicable division, Indian Council of Medical Research, told Business Standard: “It is not only neutralising antibody titre but also other components of our immune system that together determine how successful we would be in warding off an invading virus. I will therefore interpret this finding as good news and at the same time will emphasise the importance of using vaccines as well as face mask together as important combination intervention approach to break the chain of transmission of the virus SARS-CoV-2 as well as to mitigate the impact of the disease COVID-19.”

The study quoted above said sera samples were collected from individuals infected with these emerging strains and had recovered and the results were compared with those sera samples collected from vaccine recipients.

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