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India to start mass production of Oxford vaccine

A LEADING candidate for a Covid-19 vaccine has shown promising results in animal trials, and is expected to see mass production in India within months, a Reuters report published by South China Morning Post said today (29.4.2020)

The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest maker of vaccines by volume, said on Tuesday that it plans this year to produce up to 60 million doses of a potential vaccine developed by the University of Oxford, which is under clinical trial in Britain.

While the vaccine candidate, called “ChAdOx1 nCoV-19”, is yet to be proven to work against Covid-19, Serum decided to start manufacturing it as it had shown success in animal trials and had progressed to tests on humans, Serum Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla said.

Six rhesus macaque monkeys were inoculated with the vaccine candidate at the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Montana last month, according to The New York Times.

The subjects were exposed afterwards to large quantities of the novel coronavirus, but all six remained healthy after more than 28 days, the newspaper reported, citing researcher Vincent Munster, who conducted the test.

More than 3 million people have been reported to be infected globally and over 210,000 have died from Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

“They are a bunch of very qualified, great scientists [at Oxford] … That’s why we said we will go with this and that’s why we are confident,” Poonawalla told Reuters in a phone interview.

“Being a private limited company, not accountable to public investors or bankers, I can take a little risk and sideline some of the other commercial products and projects that I had planned in my existing facility,” Poonawalla said.

Serum, owned by the Indian billionaire Cyrus Poonawalla, plans to make the vaccine at its two manufacturing plants in the western city of Pune, aiming to produce up to 400 million doses next year if all goes well, Poonawalla said.

“A majority of the vaccine, at least initially, would have to go to our countrymen before it goes abroad,” he said, adding that Serum would leave it to the Indian government to decide which countries would get how much of the vaccine and when.

Serum envisages a price of 1,000 rupees (US$14.70) per vaccine, but governments would give it to people without charge, he said.

Meanwhile Billionaire Bill Gates is funding production of the seven most promising ideas for a vaccine as he refocuses his philanthropic work on the deadly coronavirus, a Bloomberg report published by South China Morning Post says.

“If everything went perfectly, we’d be in scale manufacturing within a year,” Gates said on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS. “It could be as long as two years.”

The world’s second-richest man said vaccine production will probably not start in September, as some have said.

“Dr Fauci and I have been fairly consistent to say 18 months to create expectations that are not too high,” Gates said, referring to Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force.

The availability of testing for the coronavirus has been a sore spot in the US for months. President Donald Trump tweeted on Saturday that the US “just passed 5 million Tests, far more than any other country.”

Just looking at raw numbers misses the true picture, Gates said.

“This focus on the number of tests understates the cacophony and the mistakes we’ve made in the testing system,” Gates said. “The wrong people are being tested, and any time you don’t get results in less than 24 hours, the value of the test is dramatically reduced.”

The philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft said his best-case scenario for a phased reopening of the economy is to “pick the high-value activities like school, manufacturing and construction, and figure out a way to do those with masks and distancing.”

“If we can figure out how to do K-through-12 in the fall, that would be good,” Gates said, adding that the US may even be able to open colleges “if we’re creative about it”.


Top: A word cloud featuring “Covid-19”. Image courtesy of (CC-BY-2.)

Insert: Bill Gates: Photo: Lacy O’Toole | CNBC


TNR staff
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