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Serum Institute eyes European market with new facility; to launch one vaccine a year

Alka Kshirsagar Pune | Updated on January 17, 2018 Published on July 21, 2016

Adar Poonawala, CEO, Serum Institute

Pune-based vaccines maker Serum Institute plans to launch a new vaccine every year and will bring out the first ever synthetic vaccine for rabies by the end of the year, according to CEO Adar Poonawala.

The group is also investing ₹1,500-2,000 crore — half of which has already been spent — in clinical trials for vaccines in the pipeline as well as in a new biotech SEZ in Pune, Poonawala told BusinessLine. The new facility, which will make products for Europe amongst other geographies, is scheduled to go on stream in 2018.

“Though Serum exports to over 140 countries, we have not been able to enter Europe because the quality standards and regulations are such that you really have to up your investment and game,” he explained.

The new facility, which is being funded through internal accruals, will also enable Serum to raise its current capacity of 1.2 billion doses by another 500 million doses over five years, and create space for making newer vaccines.

Elaborating on the pipeline for the next few years, Poonawala said the rabies monoclonal antibody was scheduled to come into the market by the end of 2016 or early next year. “This is a synthetic vaccine and so only one or two doses will suffice to neutralise the virus. It also does not does not give a reaction unlike equine antibodies,” he added. In the first or second quarter of 2017, Serum is due to launch the rotavirus vaccine, which is currently made only by GSK and Merck globally, and was introduced in India by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech six months ago.

Also in the offing are vaccines for cervical cancer and dengue, in 2018-19, followed by a pneumonia vaccine, which will be the first developed entirely in-house by Serum.

Adult vaccines

In an interesting take on the Indian vaccine market, Poonawala expressed dismay that adult vaccines — Serum’s portfolio includes the three-in-one flu and H1N1, and rubella — have failed to take off mainly because of apathy.

“There is a general lethargy that we deal with. People will rather spend on mobile phones, and healthcare is the last priority,” he quipped.

Paediatric vaccines on the other hand did well. “It is only mothers who are prepared to sell their saris to immunise their children,” he said, adding: “I am sure when I make the dengue vaccine people will not bother to take it.”

Currently 85 per cent of Serum’s ₹4,000-crore revenue comes from overseas. Poonawala expects this to change to 60 per cent over the next two-three years, thanks to the Centre’s immunisation programmes.

IPO ruled out

Bringing the curtain firmly down on the IPO saga, Poonwala said: “The only reason we were prepared to list was to give a potential equity investor an exit. And we wanted the money to adopt more cities for clean initiatives. But the valuations were not high enough, and since we don’t need the money for business, we have closed the chapter.”

In passing, he took a dig at bankers. “I was hurt and upset with funds and bankers who are only interested in funding loss-making companies and reward promoters who rob banks or shareholders, or IT companies who have never made any profit in their lives. And they did not back a solid 40-year-old company with no debt. So I said ‘Thank you for telling me’ and closed the door on it.”

Published on July 21, 2016
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