Should have a vaccine for COVID-19 by 2021, will not patent it: Serum Institute's Adar Poonawalla
When the vaccine is developed, whosoever does it will need to partner with multiple firms to manufacture it so that it is available across the world, Serum Institute India (SII) CEO Adar Poonawalla said.
He made the remarks during an online conference on the theme of 'Combating COVID-19: Biotech to the Rescue', organised by the Department of Biotechnology and Bennett University.
"... whosoever makes and develops the vaccine will need multiple partners to manufacture the vaccine. I hope that whichever company develops the vaccine will not hide behind patents and makes it available even on royalties or some commercial understanding to as many manufacturers across the world to make billions of dosages very quickly.
"I can speak for my company, SII. We are not going to patent this product and we will make it available to as many people as we can to manufacture this drug because we don't want to make money from and commercialise something beyond a sustainable level in such a public health epidemic....
"...we are able to do this because we are a private limited company and that is part of why we didn't list, because we are not accountable to shareholders...," Poonawalla said.
Talking about the vaccine, he said at the moment the company is conducting animal trials with mice and primates. It is hoping to start clinical trials with humans in around a month in India.
"By 2021, at the very latest, we should have a vaccine against COVID-19 from SII," Poonawalla said.
On the lockdown, he said while it was essential, it is not the only way to deal with the problem in the long run.
"Eventually once the lockdowns are lifted and the travel bans are lifted, you are going to see the cases come up again but that's not something to worry about.
"We will build herd immunity in next 2 to 3 years, like we did for H1N1 and all the rest of it, and by then the vaccines and other drugs will complete trials and hopefully whether it is our vaccine or someone else's will be in the market to further increase that herd immunity to a level of 80 to 90 per cent," Poonawalla said.
That's when the elderly and immuno-compromised patients will be safer, but till then we have to take mitigating measures, he added.
Appreciating the government, Health Ministry and the Department of Biotechnology, Poonawalla said they have been very proactive and helpful, and have removed lots of bureaucracy and barriers towards development, saving probably one or two years compared to the normal course of development of the vaccine.
We can expect a few drugs like hydrochloroquine to prove themselves in the coming months but there is no drug or vaccine today that has proven in a clinical trial against COVID-19, so we should not be hoarding these drugs and taking them, he added.
"I urge everybody to understand that a lockdown is not going to get rid of all the cases. I would also send this message to the government that please do not have multiple lockdowns after we open up in May, June because we will just cripple the economy and step on people's livelihoods beyond a point, that we will not be able to comeback," Poonawalla said.
He said he hoped a USD 200 - 250 billion package would be very soon announced with a combination of printing money and debt so that cash flow can be injected into the system and people's pockets because many have been suffering.
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