Monday, 30th October 2017

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Vaccine test on humans ‘in six months’

Dr Yusuf Hamied, chairman of Cipla points out that 'India is one of the largest exporters of vaccines in general'

By Amit Roy in London
  • Published 3.04.20, 5:07 AM
  • Updated 3.04.20, 5:07 AM
  • 3 mins read
  •  
Dr Yusuf Hamied, chairman of the pharma giant Cipla Picture sourced by the correspondent

When a vaccine for coronavirus is developed, companies in India will be manufacturing it both for the domestic market and for the world, according to Dr Yusuf Hamied, chairman of the pharma giant Cipla.

Hamied, himself a Cambridge-educated chemist who is in touch with leading researchers and academics in the UK, the US and other countries almost on an hourly basis, believes some sort of a vaccine will be ready to test out on humans in six months.

“My friend Cyrus Poonawalla will make it,” says Hamied.

He is referring to the Serum Institute of India, which was set up by Poonawalla in 1966 when India spent its precious foreign exchange in importing vaccines.

Today, the picture is very different. In terms of doses produced and sold globally — more than 1.5 billion doses — the Serum Institute of India is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer.

Although Hamied expresses a deep anxiety about how the pandemic will play out in India, he also says: “I feel on the bright side that many people are working on a vaccine. Maybe in six months there will be a vaccine and then everybody will get inoculated.”

Hamied points out that “India is one of the largest exporters of vaccines in general”.

He recalls the history of infectious diseases in India: “India, 20 years ago, had small pox. It was eradicated. Then India was a major player for polio. That was eradicated. So I have a strong feeling that in due course even coronavirus will be a thing of the past. But not for another two years.”

Asked to compare the behaviour of the virus in India and the UK, Hamied replies: “The difference is the population. Bombay City’s alone is 22m. Can you imagine if 50 per cent of Bombay’s population gets coronavirus what would happen? That is the big fear.”

Hamied attracted world attention when he supplied “dollar a day” drugs to HIV patients in Africa. For his personal intervention which is estimated to have saved the lives or 10-15 million people in Africa, Cambridge conferred a rare honorary science doctorate on him in 2014.

Hamied, who has a home in London, should have been in the UK by now — Cipla has a UK subsidiary with a growing footprint. But since UK-India flights have been suspended, he jokes he is under “house arrest” in Mumbai. “I just work, work, work,” he says.

Hamied makes it clear that Cipla itself does not make vaccines — “making a vaccine is totally different from making drugs, it’s another ball game” — but he is scaling up manufacture of a number of products that will be needed to tackle the problems caused by coronavirus and allied ailments.

“With our scientists I am trying to see how we can make the new drugs for post corona,” says Hamied.

There are two drugs — Favipiravir and Remidesivir — which are not yet on the market, even in the UK, “but which we are planning to make. So, we as Cipla, are working with the Indian government to make one of these pills primarily for the coronavirus episode.

“I have factories all over India — they are producing medicines which are regarded as essential. How do you run your factories when the workers don’t want to come and work?”

They are also scared for their own lives. We are managing because basically Indians have that nationalistic feature – they are doing it for their country. Turnout is not so high but at least we are running some of the factories.”

His confidence in Poonawalla appears to be shared by the UK’s Daily Telegraph which reported that “at its sprawling, state of the art vaccine manufacturing plant in Pune, near Mumbai, the Serum Institute of produces and sells vaccines in vast quantities for measles, polio, hepatitis, mumps and flu.

“Now, as the world scrambles to mount an effective response in the battle against coronavirus, Mr Poonawalla hopes his company will play a critical role scaling up production once a vaccine has been developed and declared fit for human use.”

Poonawalla, who has entered into a joint venture with US company Codagenix to work on a coronavirus cure, told the paper what Hamied is also saying: “Hopefully in six months we should be able to enter into human trials, that is our target.”

He said that it would take a little longer to be approved by regulators.

Poonawalla explained: “We have expertise in manufacturing multiple different types of vaccines and so we don’t see this as a challenge. The real challenge is whether it really works and is efficacious in humans and the challenge will be to prove a massive efficacy study and design a trial in a country where there are outbreaks, so most probably China.”