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India firm plans coronavirus vaccine in six months

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Indian vaccine tycoon Cyrus Poonawalla’s business has inked a deal with the US company Codagenix to rapidly co-develop a live-attenuated vaccine against the emergent coronavirus.

With the latest collaboration, “hopefully in six months, we should be able to enter into human trials, that is our target,” Poonawalla said in a statement to The Daily Telegraph, adding that it would take a little longer to be approved by regulators.

Usually, it takes several years for any drugmaker in the globe to market a particular vaccine after a series of trials and regulatory approvals.

Poonawalla, 78, is the founder and chairman of Serum Institute of India with an estimated worth of £7.46 billion.

Serum is the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines by number of doses produced, equivalent to about 1.5 billion shots per year.

Codagenix, backed by another billionaire hedge fund tycoon Jim Simons, is on a mission for a vaccine using algorithms to analyse the genome of the coronavirus.

Poonawalla’s company expects that it will play a critical role in scaling up production once a vaccine has been developed and declared fit for human use, as there are no licensed vaccines or therapeutics for this novel coronavirus, now referred to as Covid-19.

A live-attenuated vaccine has multiple advantages, including mounting an immune response to multiple antigens of the virus and the ability to scale up for mass production.

It is estimated that about 65 per cent of the children in the world receive at least one vaccine manufactured by Serum, based in Pune near India’s financial capital Mumbai.

Vaccines manufactured by Serum are accredited by the World Health Organization (WHO) and being used in around 170 countries across the globe.

The UK-educated Adar Poonawalla, son of Poonawalla, leads Serum as its chief executive officer.

Last year, Poonawalla was conferred the honorary degree of the Doctor of Science by the University of Oxford in the UK.

When Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visited India in 2013, the family hosted a party for them.

Serum was founded in 1966 with the aim of manufacturing life-saving immuno-biologicals, which were in shortage in the country and imported at high prices.

Thereafter, several life-saving biologicals were manufactured at prices affordable to the common man and in abundance, with the result that the country was made self-sufficient for Tetanus anti-toxin and anti-snake Venom serum, followed by diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis group of vaccines, among many others.

Serum owns Dutch vaccine maker Bilthoven Biologicals and the Czech unit of US firm Nanotherapeutics.

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