The crack team at the Pune-based Serum Institute of India, whichis charged with creating a vaccine for swine flu, is confronted with a problem -- sourcing enough chicken eggs free of pathogens, or germs, to grow the vaccine.
Luckily, Venkateshwara Hatcheries, India's largest poultry farm, is situated in the very city where there was panic among residents after the first death on account of swine flu August 3.
"Currently the company will supply us about 100,000 pathogen-free eggs," Suresh Jadhav of the Serum institute toldthe Indian edition of Technology Review, the 109-year publication of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"But if there is an urgent requirement to step up the vaccine production, they will be able to give us up to 2.5 million eggs a month," Jadhav was further quoted as telling the magazine, published in India by CyberMedia.
There are two farms in Bangalore as well that could be roped in if the swine flu virus spins out of control in India. Over 700 confirmed swine flu cases have been reported in India till Friday.
Under the scheme supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Serum Institute is committed to providing at least 10 percent of itsproduction of vaccine against swine flu for use in other countries.
"Such an assurance has been guaranteed by the Indian government. This is just to ensure that in the case of a national emergency, the government does not stake claim to the entire production, leaving nothing for global use," said the institute's senior director Satish Ravetkar.
Though the government has given the go-ahead for mass-scale production of the H1N1 influenza vaccine, it has yet to give firm orders to either the Serum institute or the two other Indian companies -- Panacea Biotec, New Delhi, and Bharat Biotech, Hyderabad -- about the quantity requirements.
"We have given approvals to these three companies to get seed strains from Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the UK-based National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC) to start preliminary research," said Drug Controller General of India Surinder Singh.
The companies will now have to go through the other stages of development like preclinical trials and clinical tests.
Scientists at the Serum institute expect to have the vaccine ready by September. They are also preparing a limited human trial involving at least 25 volunteers. However, it will be another six months before the vaccine is ready for mass use.
In the event of an emergency, WHO has clarified that countries could relax some of the stringent provisions related to approvals to speed up the vaccine's availability to fight a raging swine flu pandemic.
Authorities in China have been more proactive and the Beijing city government has already placed the order to supply at least four million doses by the end of September to local vaccine maker Sinovac.
Thiswill be administered to two million people in the high risk group. Additional orders are expected beginning in October and, in total, Sinovac expects to supply approximately 10 million doses to the Beijing government.
The 10 million doses will be administered to five million people in Beijing.
Indians are waiting for a similar announcement from their government. Of course, the government is not too worried because of the mild form of infection that has surfaced in the country so far.
Yet again, the technological prowess demonstrated by the Serum institute, in developing an influenza vaccine in the shortest possible time, could benefit millions across the globe.