SII, Bharat Bio seek central fund injection to ramp up vaccine production

Sources in the know said both manufacturers have sought funds in excess of Rs 150 crore under the Department of Biotechnology’s Mission Covid Suraksha scheme
As demand for Covid vaccines grows here and abroad, the two main vaccine manufacturers — the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech — are learnt to have sought financial aid from the government to help them ramp up capacities rapidly.

The SII has been selling Covishield to the government at a cost price of $2-2.5 per dose. With demand rising as other countries wait impatiently for deliveries or place fresh orders, the SII has sought funds to increase its Pune plant’s capacity.  

Sources in the know said both manufacturers have sought funds in excess of Rs 150 crore under the Department of Biotechnology’s Mission Covid Suraksha scheme. Announced last November, the scheme has an outlay of Rs 900 crore to help develop Covid vaccines, from the clinical development stage to setting up production sites.

Both companies refused to comment.

The SII is in line to expand its capacity to make 100 million doses per month of AstraZeneca’s Covishield during the April-June quarter. In April, it will also start making Covovax, the vaccine developed by US giant Novavax.

Bharat Biotech, too, is working on plans to add more production sites to the three already operational factories that make Covaxin, the vaccine it co-developed with the Indian Council of Medical Research.

Sources also confirmed the price at which the SII is selling Covishield. “The firm is selling the vaccine to the government for $2 per dose roughly, or at cost price with no margins,” said the source.

The government has recently placed an order for 100 million more doses with the SII and said it wants an expedited delivery. So far, the SII has supplied 65-70 million doses to the government and exported an equal amount.

On Saturday, SII Chief Executive Officer Adar S Poonawalla tweeted that the clinical trials for Covovax, which has an efficacy rate of 89 per cent and has been tested against the African and UK variants, had begun and that he hoped to launch the vaccine by September. The SII plans to make 50 million doses per month.

Besides, it has export commitments to the World Health Organization led-COVAX — a mechanism to distribute Covid doses fairly around the world. It has a commitment of around 200 million doses, with an option to add another 900 million. It is also committed to supplying 1 billion doses to AstraZeneca.

The SII plans to touch an annual capacity of 2.3 billion doses in 2021. 

As for Covovax, the SII has received risk funding worth $300 million and has made a commitment to sell Covishield for $3 per dose.

The firm stands to make money when the vaccine comes up for sale in the private market in India or through bilateral export deals, said sources. 

Poonawalla had said earlier that he planned to sell Covishield for Rs 1,000 or $13 per dose in the private market.

The Centre has also placed an order of 20 million doses with Bharat Biotech and, as with the SII, said it expects speedy delivery.

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