The government on Friday involved two state-run vaccine makers in scaling up the manufacturing capacity of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin by at least 10-fold in about five months.
In total, three state-owned vaccine makers have been asked to help boost the production of Covaxin, the covid vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech. The government’s intervention comes amid a surge in new coronavirus infections and vaccine production failing to keep pace with demand.
On Thursday, the Union health ministry had allowed Mumbai-based Haffkine Institute, one of the oldest biomedical research institutes in the country, to manufacture the vaccine, approving requisite technology transfer needed.
Presently, Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech is the sole manufacturer of Covaxin and is currently producing 10 million doses a month. But the government expects production to ramp up to 100 million doses a month once the new facilities start manufacturing and Bharat Biotech is able to increase capacity.
The Department of Biotechnology on Friday said that it will provide financial support to Indian Immunologicals Ltd and Bharat Immunologicals and Biologicals Ltd, along with Bharat Biotech and Haffkine, to ramp up production of the indigenously developed covid-19 vaccine.
Among the grants that were announced, Bharat Biotech, the co-developer of the vaccine, would get ₹65 crore to repurpose its new Bengaluru facility to increase the capacity of Covaxin production. This will help the vaccine maker achieve its target of overall Covaxin manufacturing capacity of 700 million doses annually or almost 60 million per month.
Maharashtra state-owned Haffkine will also be provided around ₹65 crore for setting up a facility to make the inactivated vaccine.
State-run Indian Immunologicals Ltd and Bharat Immunologicals and Biologicals Ltd will also get funds to produce 10-15 million doses per month by August or September.
The biotechnology department is also nudging Bharat Biotech and Panacea Biotec, the only two Indian firms with biosafety level 3 production (BSL3) facility, to hold talks with Panacea to start production of the vaccine, according to a person familiar with the development. BSL3 production facilities are crucial for making Covaxin because its manufacturing process involves the cultivation of large batches of the highly infectious SARS-CoV2 before killing them.
Following the financial support, the government expects the production capacity of Covaxin to be doubled by May or June and then increased nearly 6-7 fold by August.
While currently 10 million Covaxin doses are being manufactured per month, it may go to 600-700 million vaccine dose every month by August when Bharat Biotech’s Bengaluru facility, Indian Immunologicals and Bharat Immunologicals start production. A month later, when the government expects Haffkine to start production, capacity is expected to reach nearly 100 million doses a month, the government said.
However, the target for Mumbai-based Haffkine may be ambitious as the company had sought a year to start production. “Haffkine Biopharmaceuticals had asked for around 12 months to complete this task. However, the Central government has asked them to expedite and complete the task urgently within six months. The facility will have a capacity of 20 million doses per month, once functional,” DBT said in a note.