Amid all-pervading gloom in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, there is something to cheer. India’s first indigenous vaccine against Covid-19 gets off the block, offering hope that the country could become a key player in the development and manufacture of the vaccine the world is desperately waiting for. It is a matter of pride that Hyderabad has emerged as a hub for vaccine-related activity. City-based Bharat Biotech has developed the vaccine candidate in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and National Institute of Virology (NIV). The Drug Controller General of India has granted permission to initiate Phase I & II human clinical trials after the company submitted results generated from preclinical studies completed in two months after receiving regulatory approvals, demonstrating the safety and immune response. The crucial human trials are scheduled to start across India next month. In the two phases, experts test if the vaccine, named Covaxin, is safe to be administered in humans and to establish its efficacy. This is a positive development at a time when there are 13 experimental vaccines in clinical trials and another 129 in the pre-clinical evaluation stage. The strains of Sars-CoV-2 that causes Covid-19 were isolated by ICMR-NIV and transferred to Bharat Biotech in May and scientists have managed to isolate and culture 11 strains that can be used to develop vaccines and aid research. The indigenous and inactivated vaccine candidate was developed and manufactured at Bharat Biotech’s BSL-3 (Bio-Safety Level 3) High Containment facility located in Hyderabad’s Genome Valley.
The Covid-19 vaccine is being pursued across the world with understandable desperation. Though vaccine development can take more than a decade in the normal course, research efforts are now being fast-tracked to find a solution to the pandemic. The reality is that whoever crosses the finishing line first will have a great advantage in the competitive market. India cannot afford to be left behind in the race. At present, it lags behind in R&D despite being a manufacturing hub. In order to safeguard the geopolitical interests in the global vaccine market, it needs to up its game and create an ecosystem where it can play a big role both in R&D and manufacturing of vaccines. While universal and affordable access is highly desirable, it is inevitable that supply will, at least initially, be much lower than the demand and the market forces are bound to kick in. As of now, the optimistic estimate is that the vaccine could be available in the market before the end of this year. India has a huge opportunity to emerge as a global manufacturing hub for Covid-19 vaccine. It has the wherewithal and infrastructure to meet the global vaccine demand.
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