Modi Visits India Vaccine Makers as Astra Considers Fresh Trial
Prime Minister Modi interacts with officials at Zydus Biotech Park in Ahmedabad. (Source: Narendra Modi's official Twitter handle)

Modi Visits India Vaccine Makers as Astra Considers Fresh Trial

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his government was working with local drug companies to speedily develop a Covid-19 vaccine, even as questions mounted over human trials conducted by AstraZeneca Plc, which is expected to produce the country’s front-runner shot.

Modi, who crisscrossed the country to meet officials at Cadila Healthcare Ltd., Bharat Biotech and the Serum Institute of India Ltd., said his government was “actively working” with scientists and officials to facilitate their vaccine efforts.

The Serum Institute, the world’s largest producer of vaccines by volume, has partnered with AstraZeneca Plc and Oxford University and has already produced millions of doses ahead of approval. Bharat Biotech is developing a vaccine called Covaxin that could be licensed by the second quarter of 2021.

At a briefing following Modi’s visit, Serum’s Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla said they expect to apply for an emergency license within two weeks. He also said Serum won’t be conducting any new human tests for now after questions over some results prompted Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca’s chief executive officer, to tell Bloomberg News on Thursday that the company will probably conduct an additional global trial to assess the vaccine’s efficacy.

“At the moment the trials are more than enough for the efficacy,” Poonawalla said. “Of course there was a bit of confusion in the communication, which will be explained in the coming days, but that’s not going to affect the emergency use licensure in the U.K. and should not affect it in India at all.”

Poonawalla said the company is continuing to produce and stockpile 50 to 60 million doses a month, which will be ramped up to 100 million shots a month by January or February.

Meanwhile, Cadila’s Covid-19 vaccine is likely to enter phase-III trials next month and a launch is expected by March if things go according to plan, local media reported.

India remains a global hotspot for the virus, although daily infections have been cut in half since a peak of more than 97,000 in mid-September. The significant drop, though, has raised fresh questions over the South Asian nation’s testing regime and whether it reflects the true state of its epidemic.

Nevertheless, India is relatively well positioned. Its neighbors will be looking to China and a WHO-backed initiative to score supplies. However, any wide rollout is still likely months, if not years, away.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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