In the midst of gloom all around and India crossing a grim milestone of one million Covid-19 cases, there is something to cheer. A breakthrough in vaccine development has come from researchers at the Oxford University where human trials have shown encouraging results, offering hope to find a solution to the pandemic. The vaccine, now in the Phase-III clinical trials involving more than 10,000 people across the UK, has stimulated production of both antibodies and ‘killer T-cells’, which play a key role in the immune response system. The discovery is very promising because separate studies have suggested that antibodies may fade away within months while T-cells can stay in circulation for years. The Oxford University vaccine is among the 150-plus candidates, which are in various stages of development. Of them, 23 vaccines have managed to reach the human trials phase. India’s two indigenous coronavirus vaccine candidates have also entered the human trials phase. Covaxin is being developed by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, in collaboration with the National Institute of Virology (NIV) and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Zydus Cadila has also begun Phase I trial for its vaccine. US-based Moderna was the first biotech firm to commence the clinical trial of the potential coronavirus vaccine candidate in March and an interim analysis of its Phase-I trials has been quite encouraging. Russia has announced that the human trials of its vaccine would be completed by the end of this month.
The pandemic has thrown up a huge challenge to India’s pharmaceutical industry to ramp up its capabilities to serve as a leading vaccine supplier to the world. Already, India is a global pharma hub and has the wherewithal and infrastructure to meet the global vaccine demand. Pune-based Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, has partnered with Oxford University for vaccine manufacturing and plans to have the vials ready for use by September-October this year. To safeguard the geopolitical interests in the global vaccine market, India 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. India has joined the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which is working to build vaccine platforms. There is a need to create a patent pool and relax intellectual property issues to enable universal, timely and equitable access to and fair distribution of all affordable essential health technologies. This is important in the context of wide disparity among nations in handling the health crisis.
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