Serum CEO appeals to Biden against ingredient export ban

G Naga Sridhar Mumbai | Updated on April 16, 2021

Restrictions on key input for Covishield can affect fight against Covid, says Poonawalla

As the world grapples with vaccines short supply, Serum Institute’s Adar Poonawalla, in a Tweet to US President Joe Biden, flagged the US embargo on raw material exports.

“@POTUS , if we are to truly unite in beating this virus, on behalf of the vaccine industry outside the U.S., I humbly request you to lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the US so that vaccine production can ramp up. Your administration has the details,” Poonawalla tweeted.

The Serum Chief Executive’s move triggered a string of reactions on why raw materials could not be sourced locally to why the Indian government was not sorting this out for local entrepreneurs.

Covaxin-maker Bharat Biotech, too, was believed to be having issues with adjuvant that is sourced from the US. The company, however, did not comment on the development.

ICMR’s Head of Epidemiology Samiran Panda told BusinessLine that the Indian Council of Medical Research was in talks with Bharat Biotech on making the adjuvant locally. Covaxin was co-developed by the ICMR and Bharat Biotech.

In March, Poonawalla had told a World Bank panel that the US ban on raw material exports, by invoking the Defense Production Act, would cause global shortages. Serum has an alliance with US company Novavax as well (besides AstraZeneca) to make and market the vaccine in India and other countries. Novavax CEO recently raised this concern in the US. Industry insiders said that vaccine-makers have some inventories, but the situation could impact Novavax supplies if the raw material supply issue is not resolved soon

The US action is to ensure local supplies for US vaccine-makers like Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, and Moderna, said industry-watchers.

Concern was also expressed by WHO’s chief scientist, Soumya Swaminathan, who pointed to the shortage of vials, glass, plastic and stoppers (vial caps). “There is a lack of supply which is exacerbated by export controls,” she had told BusinessLine.

Pharmexcil Director-General R Uday Bhaskar said that vaccines being made in India would be directly impacted as manufacturers were directly sourcing raw materials from the US.

Apart from Covid-19 vaccines, other antidotes,too, could be impacted as non-critical materials such as single-use bioreactor bags, beta propiolactone and thimerosal, are also imported, he said, adding that it would however be “temporary”.

Published on April 16, 2021

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