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Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairperson and MD of Biocon.
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairperson and MD of Biocon.

‘Vaccination has never been done at this big a scale’

  • Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairperson and MD of Biocon, says that delivering the vaccine to all Indians will be a huge challenge

The buzz around an imminent covid-19 vaccine has raised hopes of a way back to normalcy for the billions affected by the pandemic around the world, said Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairperson and managing director of Bengaluru-based Biocon Ltd.

Mazumdar-Shaw is hopeful that the vaccine will be in India by June, but added that delivering it to all Indians comes with its own challenges. Biocon, which announced its September quarter earnings on Friday, saw its net profit fall to 169 crore from 216 crore in the year-ago quarter. In an interview, she shared her views on the vaccine and its challenges, and the way forward for Biocon. Edited excerpts:

When can we expect a covid-19 vaccine in India?

My expectation is that the first mRNA vaccines will be approved by the end of the year. But they are not going to be available in India because they require a -80 degree cold chain and that is not something which we can handle here. I expect that by January, some of the other vaccines could be approved like AstraZeneca’s, or one of our own Indian vaccines, like the one by Bharat Biotech. If we finish the clinical trials in the next 2-3 months, even those may be approved by January-February. So, I would expect that in Q1 2021-22 we should have vaccines available in India and other parts of the world. But these will be emergency use authorization (EUA) only because you need to see the durability of responses before you get full approval.

What are the challenges you foresee in vaccine distribution here?

This scale of adult vaccination has never been done before. Polio vaccine was done over many years. The polio vaccine can be given by ASHA workers and others, but covid vaccines will be intramuscular injections, and you will need nurses, doctors, MBBS students to deliver the vaccine. Apart from human resources, we need to get infrastructure for cold chains to be set up properly. Also, it is a vaccine that has to been given twice (one month apart). This brings in a lot of complexity. You need a digital backbone to do all this very efficiently. You need to track the durability of the two doses to have data on-chain traceability and trackability.

I think Aadhaar is the best way to do it as it allows you to do something at a massive scale in such an efficient way, unlike any other country can do.

What is the update on Biocon developing a product portfolio to treat covid-19 patients?

This is an important segment in the current times because covid needs to be treated in different ways and Biocon is fulfilling its role. The numbers will depend on how this pandemic continues, and the need for these drugs. But it certainly can contribute to our business over the next 12 months and beyond. It is a long-term plan since covid is not going away ever, like any of the other viral diseases. There is a place for every drug, and we are trying to make sure that across the disease continuum, we have drugs.

What is the progress on Itolizumab, the monoclonal antibody to treat covid?

We have commenced phase 4 studies, and Itolizumab is also going to start a global phase 3 study. In India, over 2,000 patients have received Itolizumab, and most of them have done extremely well. There is a lot of misreporting and misinterpretation of this drug. Itolizumab is an approved drug, gone through all three phases of trials in India before it was approved for psoriasis. The safety data is already there for the last seven years. Remdesivir was given emergency use authorization without going through a major trial. We are now building real-world evidence through the phase 4 trial.

Read the full interview on livemint.com

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