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Wockhardt says in talks with vaccine developers for manufacturing deals of COVID-19 shots

Chairman Habil Khorakiwala said the company will rearrange its priorities for other products, to allow manufacture of COVID vaccines.

December 01, 2020 / 04:38 PM IST
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Drugmaker Wockhardt said it is in talks with global vaccine makers for manufacturing their COVID-19 bulk vaccines. The Indian company may also do fill-and -finish doses out of its Aurangabad site in India.

"We are in discussions with a number of vaccine developers," said Habil Khorakiwala, Chairman of Wockhardt.

Khorakiwala said the company is considering collaborations that involve not just contract manufacturing but also manufacturing and distribution of the vaccine in India and other emerging markets.

"We have large biotech manufacturing facility with 120 scientists, we make drugs using recombinant technology, which can also be used to make certain kinds of vaccines," Khorakiwala said.

Khorakiwala said the company will rearrange its priorities for other products, to allow the manufacture of vaccines. He added that it doesn't require huge capital investment for this purpose, once the vaccine developers transfer their technology, we will tweak our systems and begin manufacturing.


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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Wockhardt makes recombinant human insulin, erythropoietin and other biologic products at its Biotech Park in Aurangabad, which has the capability to manufacture up to 1 billion doses.  The company works on expression platforms such as yeast, e-coli and mamallian cells to produce biologic products.

Indian drug companies have jumped into the race to manufacture and distribute Covid-19 vaccines. But companies with biotech capabilities are ahead in vaccine deals. Dr Reddy's and Hetero have announced a collaboration with Russian sovereign fund RDIF to produce Sputnik V covid vaccine, Biological E has entered pact to produce Johnson & Johnson's covid vaccine. Aurobindo Pharma said it is building a new facility and is looking for such manufacturing partnerships.

UK government deal

Khorakiwala estimates a production capacity 15 billion doses per annum to vaccinate entire world, but he says the existing manufacturing capacity is only 5-6 billion doses. He said there is a huge gap in terms of manufacturing capacities.

The UK government has earlier contracted one fill and finish production line at Wockhardt's Wrexham, North Wales manufacturing site for its exclusive use for 18 months in order to guarantee the supply of vaccines. In the initial phase, the UK site will produce 100 million doses per annum of AstraZeneca-University of Oxford's COVID-19 vaccine.

Khorakiwala said the UK government may use the facility to fill and finish other vaccines it is planning to acquire. Khorakiwala said Wrexham facility can be expanded to 350 million doses.

He said the UK government is paying about $50 million for using the facility, which can be expanded to $100 million based on an expansion of production.

On Monday, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Wockhardt's Wrexham site to review the preparation. The site is expected to begin manufacturing of covid vaccine in a few days, even as regulator UK's drug regulator MHRA is assessing the clinical trial data submitted by AstraZeneca-University of Oxford. The UK government has formally asked the MHRA to assess whether AstraZeneca covid vaccine is suitable for a temporary supply.
first published: Dec 1, 2020 04:38 pm

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