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Govt aids Bharat Biotech with 65 crore grant, 3 PSUs’ support to make Covaxin

Covaxin is an indigenous, inactivated vaccine that is being developed in collaboration with ICMR’s National Institute of Virology, Pune. Photo: Twitter@BharatBiotechPremium
Covaxin is an indigenous, inactivated vaccine that is being developed in collaboration with ICMR’s National Institute of Virology, Pune. Photo: Twitter@BharatBiotech

  • Bharat Biotech would get 65 crore to repurpose its new Bangalore facility to increase the capacity of Covaxin production
  • Maharashtra state-owned Haffkine will also be provided around 65 crore for setting up a facility to make the inactivated vaccine

The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) on Friday announced financial support to four firms including Bharat Biotech International and Haffkine Biopharmaceutical Corporation Ltd, to ramp up production of the indigenously-developed Covid-19 vaccine Covaxin.

Among the grants, Bharat Biotech, the co-developer of the vaccine, would get 65 crore to repurpose its new Bangalore facility to increase the capacity of Covaxin production, while Maharashtra state-owned Haffkine will also be provided around 65 crore for setting up a facility to make the inactivated vaccine.

Apart from these two companies, two more public sector undertakings Indian Immunologicals Ltd and Bharat Immunologicals and Biologicals Ltd will also be getting funds to produce 10-15 million dozes per month by August or September.

Bharat Biotech is likely to take around two to three months to start production at its Bengaluru facility, which will take its overall Covaxin manufacturing capacity to 700 million doses annually, or almost 60 million per month. Currently, the company’s annual capacity to make Covaxin is around 200 million.

The DBT is also nudging Bharat Biotech and Panacea Biotec, the only two Indian firms with biosafety level 3 production facility (BSL3) facility, to hold talks for Panacea to start production of the vaccine. BSL3 production facilities are crucial for making Covaxin, because its manufacturing process involves the cultivation of large batches of the highly infectious SARS-CoV2 before killing them.

Following the financial support, the government expects current production capacity of Covaxin vaccine to be doubled by May or June and then increased nearly 6-7 fold by August. While currently 10 million Covaxin doses are being manufactured per month, it may go to 60-70 crore vaccine dose every month by August when Bharat Biotech’s Bengaluru facility, Indian Immunologicals and BIBCOL start production.

The following month, when the government expects Haffkine to start production, capacity is expected to reach nearly 10 crore doses per month, the government said.

However, the target for Mumbai-based Haffkine may be ambitious as the company had sought a year to start production.

“Haffkine Biopharmaceuticals had asked for around 12 months to complete this task. However, the Central government has asked them to expedite and complete the task urgently within 6 months. The facility will have a capacity of 20 million dozes per month, once functional," DBT said in a statement.

The grants come at a time when many states in India are facing a shortage of doses due to low production capacity.

For Haffkine, the support followed a request by the Maharashtra government as it faced a shortage of vaccine supplies.

Amit Deshmukh, Maharashtra’s medical education minister, told Mint that there are a number of regulatory clearances that the company has to obtain before it starts production.

“This will take about one year from the initial clearance to commission the production because this process is long drawn. This is because laboratory standards are extremely high and we will also require extremely skilled and highly qualified manpower," Deshmukh said, adding that Haffkine will require support from experts in the Centre and state to execute the project.

The indigenously developed vaccine is one of the two that are currently being used by the government in its covid-19 immunization drive, with the other being Serum Institute of India’s Covishield, a version of the vaccine originally developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca.

However, the supply of Covaxin has been severely hampered by production constraints, with the company struggling to scale up capacity amid escalating demand for covid-19 vaccines, including that of Covishield.

While Serum Institute of India’s current capacity to manufacture Covishield is 60-70 million doses per month, that of Bharat Biotech is just around a fifth.

Meanwhile, India’s inoculation programme is racing much faster than production. As of Friday morning, over 52 million doses had been administered across the country in April, more than the number of doses given in the entire month of March. Covaxin accounts for less than a tenth of the total vaccine doses administered while the rest of the inoculations are being done using Covishield.

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