Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla is the founder chairman of Poonawalla Group which includes the Serum Institute of India. The Serum is India’s top biotech company and the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by the number of doses produced and sold globally (more than 1.3 billion doses). Serum partnered with AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford to manufacture the Covishield vaccine. India emerged as a major vaccine provider to the world, thanks to Serum. 

Born into a family known in horse racing circuit through the family’s owned Poonawalla Stud Farms, by age 20, Dr. Poonawalla realised that horse racing had “no future in the socialist India of the time.” He then experimented with cars along with his school friend. He built a $120 prototype sports car modeled on the D-type Jaguar. But as this venture required more money and he abandoned the idea. But his passion for collecting cars continued and he has fascinating collection of sports cars and custom-built limousines.

Poonawalla was educated at Bishops School, in Pune and graduated from Brihan Maharashtra College of Commerce (BMCC) in 1966. He was awarded a Ph.D. by the Pune University in 1988 for his thesis entitled “Improved Technology in the manufacture of specific Anti-toxins and its socio-economic impact on the Society”.

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After launching Serum in 1966, he contributed to the vaccine production of the world. Serum launched its first therapeutic anti-tetanus serum within two years, and began producing the anti-tetanus vaccines. By 1974, Serum Institute introduced the DTP vaccine to protect children from diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, followed by an anti-snake-venom serum for snakebites in 1981.

Poonawalla led Serum’s journey of innovations. In 1989, Serum began the production of its measles vaccine M-Vac and within a year, it became country’s largest vaccine manufacturer; the title holds even today. In the 80s, India was made self-sufficient for tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough vaccines, thanks to the production from Serum Institute.

In 1994, Serum Institute got accredited by the World Health Organization (WHO) to export vaccines from India and started supplying high quality vaccines to UN Agencies such as UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), PAHO (Pan American Health Organization).

Poonawalla’s primary concept was not only to make life-saving drugs and vaccines but to see that every child get protection. At that time his dictum was “Health for all by 2000 AD”. The resultant effort was the National Program of Immunization, which is largely dependent on the vaccines manufactured by Serum Institute and now that philosophy has proliferated worldwide to International UN Agencies.

His strong belief in “No Compromise with Quality” and willful commitment in “Health for All with affordable Vaccines” has today lead Serum Institute to become India’s leading biotech company.

Poonawalla was married to the late Mrs. Villoo Poonawalla and has a son, Adar, who is currently the chief executive officer (CEO) and executive director at the Serum Institute.