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Home / News / India /  Centre places advance order for 300 mn Biological E jabs worth 1,500 crore

NEW DELHI : India placed an advance order worth 1,500 crore for 300 million doses of Biological E’s experimental covid-19 vaccine a day after the Supreme Court asked the government to submit a road map of the projected availability of jabs till the end of the year.

“These vaccine doses will be manufactured and stockpiled by Biological E from August-December 2021," the government statement said on Thursday.

This is the first advance contract signed by the government with a vaccine maker in India and marks a major shift from the government’s earlier stance of signing sourcing pacts only with companies with authorized vaccines.

The order underscores the government’s efforts to overcome a severe shortage in the world’s second-most populous nation that is battling a devastating second wave of the pandemic. The Supreme Court on Thursday termed the government’s vaccination policy as “prima facie arbitrary and irrational".

Biological E has developed the vaccine with Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and California-based Dynavax Technologies Corp. This is the second vaccine to be developed in India after Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin.

A spokesperson for Hyderabad-based Biological E was not immediately available for comment.

India has so far used two vaccines, Covaxin and Covishield, produced by Serum Institute of India and developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. It has also approved Russia’s Sputnik V, and the vaccine is being used currently, though on a limited scale.

Biological E’s vaccine is a protein subunit vaccine, which comprises only spike proteins that are injected into the body to trigger an immune response. Protein subunit vaccines are considered by many experts to be one of the safest and time-tested vaccine platform, unlike the relatively new messenger RNA technology, and also do not involve injecting a whole killed virus.

The vaccine is currently undergoing phase 3 trials and is expected to be ready for regulatory authorization and subsequent launch in August.

Biological E’s proposal was examined and recommended for approval after due diligence by the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for covid-19, the government said.

NEGVAC chairman Vinod K. Paul said last month the government expected 300 million doses of the vaccine from Biological E in August-December. Biological E had earlier received financial aid of 100 crore for conducting human trials from the department of biotechnology. Prior to that, it conducted animal trials at the government’s Translational Health Science Technology Institute in Faridabad.

While the government has previously helped companies with financial aid for vaccine development, it has steered clear of signing advance orders, with several officials stating that they would do so only when a particular vaccine receives regulatory approval.

This was in stark contrast with countries like the US, UK, Canada and the Covax facility, which have all signed significant advance purchase agreements worth billions of dollars months before the vaccines got authorization in order to help them conduct research and scale-up capacity and be ready for launch.

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