Coronavirus started to spread in China at the end of 2019 and in six months, it is now a global pandemic affecting more than 5.5 million people and killing nearly 3,50,000 people globally. Biotech and pharmaceutical companies around the world are collaborating with each other and have started working on vaccines to help fight this global pandemic.
By any means, vaccine development is a long and complex process which can usually take anywhere between 10-15 years. Any candidate vaccine has to go through multiple phases like drug discover, pre-clinical trials involving studies on animals, clinical trials, and regulatory approvals before it can be deemed fit and effective for human use.
However, more than 100 vaccines are already under development across the world and since this is not an entirely new virus, pharmaceutical companies have a slight advantage. We have witnessed the impact of novel coronavirus during the SARS 2002-2004 outbreak and the MERS outbreak. None of these has been as deadly and viral as the pandemic we are facing right now.
Along with global biotech companies, around two dozen Indian companies and institutes are also working to develop a cure and they have made some progress. But even the most optimistic experts believe we might not see a vaccine until 2021 or 2022.
Let’s take a look at top 10 Indian biotech and pharmaceutical companies that are trying to develop a vaccine for Covid-19.
Serum Institute of India
Pune-based Serum Institute of India is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. Founded by Dr Cyrus Poonawalla in 1966, Serum Institute of India specializes in manufacturing life-saving vaccines using cutting edge genetic and cell-based technologies. The company claims to produce more than 1.5 billion doses of vaccines for Polio, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Measles and Rubella for more than 170 countries around the globe. Currently, Adar Poonawalla, the son of Dr Cyrus Poonawalla, is the CEO of Serum Institute of India.
Serum Institute of India has tied-up with American biotechnology firm Codagenix to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus. This vaccine is in a pre-clinical trial phase but the company expects it to be ready by early 2022. Apart from that, Serum Institute of India has already started manufacturing a vaccine developed by the Oxford Vaccine Group. This vaccine has entered the clinical trial phase, which means it is being tested on humans and while the tests haven’t been completed, Serum Institute of India wants to get a head start so that they can be ready with enough doses of the vaccine by the time results come out. While the vaccine is being manufactured, it won’t be distributed until the tests are successful and it is proven successful and safe to use for humans.
Ahmedabad-based Zydus Cadila is one of India’s leading pharmaceutical companies. Cadila was founded back in 1952 by Ramanbhai Patel and his partner Indravan Modi. However, in 1995, the company was split in two which lead to the formation of Cadila Healthcare also known as Zydus Cadila, owned by the Patel Family. The second company known as Cadila Pharmaceuticals is now controlled by the Modi family.
Zydus Cadila discovers, develops, and manufactures drugs and vaccines for a global market. It has more than 1,300 researchers across 19 sites working on developing medicine for the future. The company is known for developing India’s first indigenously developed H1N1 vaccine to fight the swine flu outbreak in 2010. With its research and manufacturing sites spread across four continents, the company has a strong presence across the globe.
Zydus Cadila’s teams in India and Europe are working on two different methods to develop a vaccine for the deadly coronavirus. The first approach involves creating a DNA vaccine and the second involves developing a live attenuated recombinant measles virus (rMV) vectored vaccine. Working in partnership with the National Institute of Virology in Pune, Zydus has recently provided the Indian Council of Medical Research with the COVID-19 antibody detection kits free of cost. These kits are useful in diagnosing the number of patients who have been exposed to the disease.
Bengaluru-based Biocon is one of India’s largest biopharmaceutical companies. Founded by Kiran Mazumdar Shaw in 1978, Biocon is committed to providing its patients access to affordable complex therapies for chronic conditions like diabetes and cancer. The company has developed novel biologics and biosimilars for patients across more than 120 countries.
It is working on a next-generation biotech drug for the treatment of Covid-19. Biocon’s R&D unit Syngene has partnered with Pune-based biotech firm Seagull BioSolutions to develop a novel customized non-replicating measles virus-based vaccine. In an interview with Business Today, Biocon’s founder and Chairman Kiran Mazumdar Shaw said that it will take them around six months to reach human trials.
Hyderabad-based Biological E was founded by Dr. DVK Raju. It was started as a biological products company manufacturing liver extracts and anti-coagulants in 1953. Biological E became the first private Indian company to start manufacturing vaccines starting with DPT vaccines in 1962. Since then, the company has partnered with global healthcare agencies like WHO, UNICEF and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to supply vaccines across more than 100 countries. In the last decade alone, Biological E claims to have supplied over 2 billion doses of vaccines.
Founded by Dr. Krishna Ella in 1996, Bharat Biotech uses extensive research to create innovative vaccines and bio-therapeutics to help its patients’ lead healthier lives. This biotechnology company claims to have delivered more than 3 billion doses of vaccine to more than 65 countries around the world.
Bharat Biotech has partnered with Thomas Jefferson University of Philadelphia to develop a new coronavirus vaccine candidate invented at the university. This vaccine has been developed using an existing deactivated rabies vaccine which is already approved for the entire population. The researchers are currently testing the vaccine on animals and are expecting results in the next month before they can move on to human trials. Apart from that, the biotech company has partnered with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and US-based company FluGen to develop an intranasal vaccine called ‘CoroFlu’ against coronavirus. CoroFlu is expected to enter clinical trials by the fall of 2020.
Indian Immunologicals Ltd
Hyderabad-based Indian Immunologicals Ltd was established as a unit of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) in 1982. It was spun into a corporate entity as Indian Immunologicals Ltd in 1999. It became the first company in India to launch purified vero cell rabies vaccine (PVRV). The company manufactures both animal and human vaccines and exports them to 50 countries.
Indian Immunologicals Ltd has partnered with Australia Griffith University to research and develop a vaccine for the coronavirus. Scientists from Indian Immunologicals Ltd and the University will work to develop a ‘Live Attenuated SARS – CoV 2 vaccine’ or COVID-19 vaccine using the latest codon de-optimization technology.
This Ahmedabad-based biotech company Hester Biosciences was founded by Rajiv Gandhi in 1987. Hester Biosciences specializes in animal healthcare using its cutting-edge research and manufacturing facilities to develop and manufacture healthcare products and poultry vaccines. With more than 50 vaccines and 35 healthcare products in its portfolio, it is among the leading animal healthcare companies in India.
It is now working with IIT Guwahati to develop a recombinant vaccine candidate to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The vaccine will be based on recombinant avian paramyxovirus. According to the officials, the vaccine is currently in the early stages of development and can only be expected to be ready for animal studies by the end of this year.
Founded by Avijit Das, Dr Prabuddha Kundu and Dr Nupur Mehrotra in 2005, Gurugram-based Premas Biotech uses state of the art technology platform to help pharmaceutical companies develop therapeutics and vaccines. The company has developed a D-Crypt platform that helps reduce time, cost and risk associated with producing high-quality recombinant proteins for drug and vaccine development.
In partnership with Akers Biosciences, Premas Biotech has announced that it has successfully developed triple antigen vaccine prototype to fight the novel coronavirus. This candidate vaccine has been developed using Premas Biotech’s D-Crypt Platform. After the company is done collating the data from its findings, it will be submitted to regulatory authorities in India and the US before it proceeds with further studies.
Established in 2006, Pune-based Gennova Biopharmaceuticals uses innovative bio-manufacturing technologies to develop and manufacture bio-therapeutics for people suffering from life-threatening diseases across cardiovascular, neurology, nephrology and oncology segments. The company is currently developing vaccines for malaria, TB and flu. Apart from that, the company is also working on mRNA vaccine candidate for the deadly Covid-19 disease.
Founded by Raghavan Varadarajan in 2017, Mynvax focuses on developing next-generation vaccines for influenza.
Incubated by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bengaluru, the startup is working with IISc scientists to develop a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 infections. The startup claims to have developed several candidate immunogens and completed animal trials. However, the company believes that it will take another 18 months before a safe and effective vaccine can be ready for human use.