The Serum Institute of India (SII) is ramping up the production of the Oxford vaccine candidate in anticipation of its passing trials.
DW spoke with Serum’s CEO Adar Poonawalla about when a vaccine could be ready.
Adar Poonawalla (main picture, center), the chief executive officer of Serum Institute of India (SII), is busy these days. SII, the world’s largest producer of vaccines by volume, is already starting production on a novel coronavirus vaccine candidate developed by the Jenner Institute at Oxford University.
Researchers at Oxford started testing the candidate vaccine, “ChAdOx1 nCoV-19,” on more than 1,110 people last month. Trials determine the efficacy of a vaccine while identifying possible side effects.
Last week, a study showed that the Oxford vaccine was able to prevent SARS-CoV-2-related pneumonia in primates.
In an interview with DW, Poonawalla said he is hopeful India will play a decisive role in manufacturing a vaccine, and, pending successful trials, up to 40 million doses could be ready by October.
Based in the western Indian city of Pune, SII makes 1.5 billion vaccine doses every year, and the company currently produces around 20 vaccines for 165 countries.
DW: Why has the Serum Institute started manufacturing the Oxford vaccine candidate before trials have been completed?
Adar Poonawalla: The decision was made solely to have a head-start on manufacturing and to have enough doses available. The distribution of the doses will only commence once the trials are successful and it is proven the vaccine is effective and safe for use.
We are also working on conducting our own human trials in India this month. The focus of initial tests is to ascertain whether the vaccine works, induces a good immune system response, and has no unacceptable side effects.
How confident are you that the Oxford candidate vaccine will work?
More than 100 potential COVID-19 candidate vaccines are now under development by biotech and research teams around the world. At least six of these are in preliminary testing in humans for what is known as Phase 1 clinical trials.
Although the Oxford vaccine, called “ChAdOx1 nCoV-19,” has not yet been proven to protect against COVID-19 infection, Serum decided to start manufacturing after it showed promise in the pre-clinical phase and progressed to human trials.
There are several indicators that the vaccine being developed by Oxford will be a good one. The technology of this vaccine has been successful before and we are hopeful this will be safe as well.
We need to be lucky in the clinical trials to get enough people without COVID-19 in the control group to show conclusively that the vaccine is working well.
But the fact that we have a potential vaccine candidate in such a short period of time is definitely something to cheer about.