NEW DELHI :
Serum Institute of India, which is partnering Oxford University for a promising under-trial covid-19 vaccine, aims to have the vials ready for use by September-October, its chief executive said on Tuesday as scientists in the US reported success with the Oxford vaccine in animals.
Tuesday brought rare good news in the world’s war against the deadly covid-19 pandemic. Scientists at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, US, reported that six rhesus monkeys inoculated with the Oxford University vaccine and then exposed to heavy quantities of the novel coronavirus “were healthy” 28 days later, The New York Times said in a report.
Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine maker, is a manufacturing partner of the Oxford University initiative, one of seven such partners worldwide.
A team headed by professor Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute at Oxford, has also started human trials with the vaccine on 23 April. To be sure, success with animal tests does not necessarily guarantee that tests with humans will also succeed.
On Tuesday, Serum Institute said it is simultaneously initiating production of the vaccine in India with the hope that trials will be successful.
The vaccine candidate called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 is made from a virus (ChAdOx1), which is a weakened version of a common cold virus (adenovirus) that causes infection in chimpanzees. The virus has been genetically modified to ensure that it cannot grow in humans.
The vaccine has been given to more than 320 people so far and has been shown to be safe and well-tolerated, although it can cause temporary side-effects such as a temperature, headache or sore arm, Oxford University said. Around 1,110 people will take part in the trial, half receiving the vaccine and the other half (the control group) receiving a widely available meningitis vaccine.
Serum Institute of India chief executive officer Adar Poonawalla said in an interview on Tuesday: “While the clinical trials have already commenced in the UK, we are simultaneously initiating production as well, in the hope that when the trials are successful, we will have the first batch of doses ready for use by September or October.”
Poonawalla said Serum Institute aims to start production in May. However, distribution will only begin if and when human trials successful. “The decision has been solely taken to have a jump-start on manufacturing, to have enough doses available for immediate release,” he said.
“Our facility is already equipped to make this covid-19 vaccine and we have dedicated the same towards developing it. Our Pune manufacturing facility has an investment of about ₹500-600 crore that we have already done for one of the other vaccines in the past. In addition, building a brand-new facility for covid-19 vaccine will take approximately 2-3 years.”
Serum Institute is aiming to manufacture 4-5 million doses per month, following which, it might scale up production to 10 million doses per month, based on the success of the trials. “We are looking forward to building up 20-40 million doses by September-October. If successful, we will also make it available in as many countries as possible including India,” said Poonawalla.
While 89 companies across the globe are vying to develop a vaccine, seven including the Oxford University candidate have advanced to human trials or clinical evaluation stage, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Zydus Cadila, Serum Institute, Biological E, Bharat Biotech, Indian Immunologicals Ltd, and Mynvax are among local companies trying to develop a vaccine for covid-19. The Drug Controller General of India (DGCI) has so far approved three applications related to covid-19.
According to DGCI officials, Serum Institute will conduct three trials in India for checking the efficacy of the vaccine.