UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. Dubai: Adar Poonawalla and Serum Institute of India, these names were known by a few until Covid-19 hit the world in 2020. Serum Institute of India (SII), founded by Cyrus Poonawalla is world’s largest vaccine maker. With the world-class manufacturing facility in Pune, SII is producing and selling more than 150 billion vaccine doses globally. While the world was struggling with production and distribution glitches amid Covid-19 pandemic, The India based vaccine manufacturer emerged as a promising firm capable enough to intensifying the vaccine production and its export in India and around the world. The privately owned SII is backed by number of investors including Bill Gates. SII raised $150 million from Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to produce 100 million vaccines for India and other low-income countries. SII has been working with Indian government since April 2020 to produce the vaccines for India and other countries.
The scion of Poonawalla Group
Adar Poonawalla, CEO at Serum Institute of India is the sole heir of Poonawalla group. He joined the company in 2001 and took over the 6-decade old family business. He shifted gears to venture out in other verticals apart from horse racing and vaccine manufacturing. His unsuccessful attempts of establishing successful business includes assembling sports cars. The group also invested in luxury hospitality sector partnering with brands like Bvlgari and Ritz Carlton. Investments were made in various other sector including real estate with core focus being biotech and vaccines. Under his leadership, the group made distribution partnership with Cipla to enter the European market with its products.
During the covid-19 pandemic, his father and founder of SII, Cyrus Poonawalla’s net worth has seem enormous boost. He made his place under Forbes’ India’s richest list with his current net worth of $11.8 billion. A notable jump from $8.2 billion in April 2020 to $11.8 billion in August 24, 2020.
SII’s revenue was USD600 million in FY16 with a market share of 22 percent in biopharmaceutical segment of India. According to industry sources, the company reported $804 million revenue in the latest fiscal year.
Delay in vaccine deliveries
Adar Poonawalla’s statements regarding vaccine updates, pricing, fund requirements for vaccine production were covered extensively in news. He recently verified the centre’s clarification on the orders placed for vaccination through his tweet. He confirmed receiving total orders of over 26 crore doses by the government of India so far. His tweet also confirmed the news of receiving 100% advance payment of ₹1,732.50 cr. for 11 crore doses from Government of India. These vaccines are expected to be delivered in next few months. Another batch of 11 crore vaccines will be supplied for states and private hospitals in the second channel.
Assurance delivered, orders accepted and 100% payments received but Poonawalla has broken the hopes of many by stating that India will be facing vaccine crunch for the next 2-3 months. After over promising to deliver the required vaccines for India and for other countries and accepting full advance payments, now Poonawalla reiterates the fact which everyone knows, that vaccine manufacturing capacity cannot be increased and production can’t be ramped up overnight.
Business opportunities outside India
Poonawalla recently flown to London right before the flight ban was imposed by UK government. He reportedly flown to UK to discuss the possibilities of manufacturing vaccines outside India. According to a statement issued yesterday, SII confirmed pumping in 240 million British pounds to expand its vaccine program in the UK. A sales office will also be setup in the country which is expected to generate new business worth around 1 billion British pounds out of which 200 million British pounds will be invested in the UK market. This investment is part of plans for 1 billion British pound India-UK Enhanced Trade Partnership, which will create approximately 6,500 jobs in the UK.
SII’s investment is aimed at manufacturing of vaccines to help the UK combat coronavirus pandemic. It will also support the clinical trials, research and development in the country.
Act of ‘Philanthropy’
Registered as a ‘For Profit’ company, Serum Institute of India’s CEO Adar Poonawala tweeted that the vaccine price has been decreased from 400 to 300 ₹ per dose for state governments. The price cut from the profits was smartly termed as a ‘Philanthropic gesture’ by Poonawalla. In these tough times, such announcements from giant firms may appear as a mockery of people’s agony.
Threats and Critisism
The rollout of vaccines started for people above 18 years of age in India and states are dealing with shortage of vaccines. In April 2021, SII’s director wrote to Home Minister complaining about the threats received from various groups over vaccine shortage in India. As a response to this, home ministry provided Y-security to Poonawalla. However, Poonawalla flown to the UK few days ago. In an interview given to the British publication ‘The Times of London’, he blamed the political pressure build in India due to increased demand of vaccines and expressed his concern about his own safety. According to Poonawalla, he is in tremendous pressure due to the calls received from some of the most powerful people in India, state heads, business leaders.
He was also receiving criticism from state governments and opposition over the delayed supply of vaccines and immediate demand of the vaccine doses. Poonawalla pointed out that these threats made him fly away from his home country and he is not willing to go back to that situation. Social media was swamped with various opinions after his interview with the British journal was published. Soon after the article came out, he tweeted indicating his early return to India. These statements unmasked the current state of affairs and how the existing situation of pandemic is clearly driven by politics in India. A writ petition is also filed in Bombay High Court seeking Z+ security for the ‘Vaccine Prince’ of India.