Govt explores possibility of producing Covaxin abroad
Centre is exploring the possibility of offering the locally developed coronavirus vaccine, Covaxin that has been jointly developed by Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), for production abroad through a technology transfer between commercial entities amid supply crunch, according to government officials aware of the development.
“There is a need to meet the demand for Covid-19 vaccines in view of the new mutation of the virus to more infectious nature. We have decided to offer Covaxin to any interested foreign countries. The production would be done through technology transfer between commercial entities. Terms and conditions for the same would have to be finalised by the licence holder, Bharat Biotech,” one of the officials said on condition of anonymity.
This will also be done with any future Indian vaccines, this person added. “It has also been communicated to missions abroad to seek interested countries for production abroad.”
The move, which is expected to increase availability of and access to vaccines, especially in the global South comes at a time when India is looking to boost domestic production of the vaccines. The government last week decided to offer an advance (or supplier’s credit) of over ₹4,500 crore to Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech. Bharat Biotech on April 20 announced it will scale up of manufacturing capacity to produce 700 million doses of Covaxin annually.
India’s indigenous vaccine, Covaxin is developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) - National Institute of Virology (NIV). The indigenous, inactivated vaccine is developed and manufactured in Bharat Biotech’s BSL-3 (Bio-Safety Level 3) high containment facility.
It is, however, not clear whether ICMR shares Intellectual Property rights with Bharat Biotech on Covaxin. Nor was it immediately clear how and why the government is involved in what should seesntially be a technology transfer arrangement between two companies.
Bharat Biotech, ICMR and the ministry of health did not respond to queries seeking comment.
Covaxin recently came in for praise from the US’ top pandemic expert Dr Anthony Fauci, who said it “neutralises” 617 variants, according to PTI.
In a statement issued on April 20, Bharat Biotech said it was exploring manufacturing partnerships with partners in other countries, who have prior expertise with commercial scale manufacture of inactivated viral vaccines under biosafety containment.
“Manufacturing scale up has been carried out in a stepwise manner across multiple facilities at Hyderabad, and Bangalore. Inactivated vaccines, while highly safe, are extremely complex and expensive to manufacture, resulting in lower yields when compared to live virus vaccines,” it added in the statement.
The company also said Covaxin has received Emergency Use Authorisation in several countries across the globe with another 60 in process. It has been granted EUAs in Mexico, Philippines, Iran, Paraguay, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Guyana, Venezuela, Botswana, Zimbabwe, among several other countries. It is in the process of getting EUAs in the US and Europe, according to Bharat Biotech.
“I think, in principle this is great. Expanding manufacturing capacity outside is important not only to increase doses but increase capacity in other parts of the world, “ said Gagandeep Kang, professor at Christian Medical College and board member of Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).