Hyderabad’s Biological E wants Rs 1,500 cr advance from Modi govt for 30 cr Covid vaccines

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New Delhi: Hyderabad-based pharmaceutical company Biological E has sought an advance of Rs 1,500 crore from the Government of India for the manufacture of 30 crore Covid-19 vaccines, ThePrint has learnt.

In April, the company got the nod from the Central Drugs and Standards Control Organisation (CDSCO) to conduct phase 3 clinical trials on its Covid vaccine candidate, which has been developed in association with Baylor College of Medicine, US, and is modelled after the Hepatitis E vaccine. 

Apart from this, the company has signed agreements with two foreign companies to manufacture their vaccines in India. Biological E announced Tuesday that it has entered into an agreement with Providence Therapeutics Holdings, a Canada-based company, to manufacture its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine in India. It is also supposed to run a clinical trial of the vaccine in India. Apart from this, the company also has a deal with Johnson & Johnson to manufacture its Covid-19 vaccine in India.

A senior official in the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare confirmed to ThePrint “that Biological E has asked for some advance for the manufacture of Covid vaccines”. 

“However we are yet to take a call on this,” the official added. ThePrint reached the Biological E spokesman, but they cited their own illness and the managing director’s packed travel itinerary to refuse comment for now.

While the central government did hand out advances to the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech in April for Covid vaccines that were to be bought over the next few weeks, this was done after the shots had started being administered in the national programme. With Biological E, government officials said, there is still an element of uncertainty.

Additionally, unlike in the case of SII and Bharat Biotech, the price/unit of the Biological E vaccine is yet to be announced.

Government officials said the final call on the Biological E proposal rests with the Ministry of Finance. However, they added, if a consensus is reached, the payment will be made by the Union Ministry of Health as it essentially amounts to placing advance orders for vaccines.

Also Read: No response to global tender for 4 cr vaccine shots, UP extends date for bid submission again

India’s vaccine advances 

The Government of India had initially been reluctant to place advance orders for Covid-19 vaccines. However, it relented in April, as the second Covid wave took off, and approved an advance of Rs 1,700 crore for the SII, which manufactures Covishield, and Rs 700 crore for Bharat Biotech, which has developed Covaxin. 

These two vaccines have been a part of India’s vaccination programme since it was rolled out in January.

The advance payments followed much criticism for the government over delayed vaccine purchases that led to shot shortages across the country.

Forming partnerships

Biological E has already entered into some collaborations of its own that would bring in investments for the company’s vaccine manufacturing efforts. 

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a Norway-based global initiative aimed at developing vaccines for emerging diseases and ensuring equitable access, and Biological E Limited have announced a collaboration to advance the development and manufacture of the company’s Covid-19 subunit vaccine candidate. 

Subunit vaccines do not contain live components of the pathogen. They contain only the antigenic parts of the pathogen, which are necessary to elicit a protective immune response.

“CEPI will initially contribute up to $5m toward the cost of scaling up the process for manufacturing the vaccine, and will explore providing additional funding to Bio E with the goal of potentially enabling the production of 100 million doses in 2021,” the company said in a statement last month.

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also Read: Two vaccine doses needed for ‘strong protection’ against Covid variant from India: FT report


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