Cipla CFO says not ruling out possibility of drug-maker entering COVID-19 vaccine fray

Cipla sometime back had built a biotech manufacturing facility in Goa with an investment of Rs.350 crore, which can be utlised for producing vaccines.

February 04, 2021 / 10:26 AM IST
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Drug-maker Cipla, which has been the frontrunner among Indian pharmaceutical companies in its COVID-19 response with the launch of drugs, sanitizers, face masks and diagnostics, said it is not ruling out the possibility of entering into alliances to bring out a COVID-19 vaccine.

"I don't want to rule out anything.. but generally, we have been happy with the work we have down with our COVID-19 medicines portfolio," Kedar Upadhye, Global Chief Financial Officer of Cipla, told Moneycontrol.

Upadhye, however, declined to provide any specific details about undertaking any talks for partnerships.

"This (vaccines) is an area, where in our view manufacturers have predominant play, trading would be difficult," Upadhye added.

With the government announcing a  Rs 35,000-crore outlay for COVID-19 vaccines in the Budget 2021, vaccine makers are expected to benefit.


COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Analysts say that vaccine manufacturing requires technical expertise. Cipla had sometime back built a biotech manufacturing facility in Goa with an investment of Rs. 350 crore, which can be utilised for producing vaccines.

Cipla decided in 2017 against manufacturing biosimilar drugs in-house as part of a companywide restructuring that involved exiting non-core and low-profit businesses.

"Pure play vaccine companies like Serum Institute of India, Bharat Biotech, Biologic E and Zydus Cadila, have an advantage in striking deals with large vaccine makers," said a pharma analyst, who didn't want to be named.

"Someone like Cipla will have to rely on third-party contractors to manufacture the vaccine. It becomes less profitable for them unless there are huge volumes," said the analyst quoted above.

Dr Reddy's took the plunge and entered into a collaboration with Russian sovereign fund RDIF to develop, manufacture and distribute the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine in India. To be sure, the company does have biotech capabilities as it manufactures biosimilar drugs, but it is still relying on two partners including Hetero to manufacture the vaccine.

On whether Cipla has any interest in distributing Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine, Upadhye said the cost of the vaccine would be too high for the Indian market at the moment.

Cipla's India business has received a huge boost from COVID-19 drugs like Gilead's antiviral drug Remdesivir. In the third quarter, the company’s prescription business grew at 22 percent to Rs 2,231 crore on a year-on-year basis, and about 5 percent of those sales were from COVID-19 medications. For the nine months of FY21, the COVID-19 portfolio has contributed about Rs 550 crores.

Upadhye said the contributions from the COVID portfolio will drop in the coming quarter as the number of cases is seeing a steep drop, but expressed confidence in healthy traction in respiratory and chronic therapies. Recovery in the hospital and acute businesses with the opening up of several OPDs will drive the growth of the India business, he added.
first published: Feb 3, 2021 07:45 pm

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