How did you get into the vaccine business?
When I began conceptualising a Hepatitis vaccine, I was working on yeast molecular biology in the US… During that period, there was a substantial demand for medicine in India. So, I set up a lab in Hyderabad with the medical equipment I had brought back with me from the US and started producing the Hepatitis B surface protein.
Bharat Biotech was started with Rs 12.5 crore. Within three years, we were able to launch our first Hepatitis vaccine. We went on to supply several million doses for the national immunisation programme at Rs 10 per dose. This was a milestone as we became the first company in the world to produce a cesium-free Hepatitis B vaccine at an affordable price when the vaccine was sold by a multinational at Rs 1,400 per dose.
You took a lot of risk with rotavirus vaccine. How sure were you of success?
Rotavac was a result of a unique social partnership that brought together the experience and expertise of Indian and international researchers as well as public and private sectors… That vaccine demonstrated that an Indian company was capable of conducting high-quality research in advanced sciences… Again, it cost only one dollar per dose.
What was the biggest difficulty you faced during that time?
Frankly, we received a lot of support from government and other institutions, and this project (rotavirus) would not have advanced without their help. We had set up an innovative manufacturing process which had enabled the reduction of manufacturing costs… When it was launched in 2015, the rotavirus vaccine was one of the first successful example of ‘Make in India’ initiative.
Which is a bigger success for the company, rotavirus or typhoid vaccine?
Both are significant scientific discoveries. Both these vaccines reinforced India’s leadership in developing a world-class vaccine… Typhoid fever was a neglected tropical disease. The success of our vaccine is a true reflection of Bharat Biotech’s ability to develop novel vaccines and sustain long-term product development against infectious diseases.
What is next?
We have several vaccine programmes underway, including the four Covid-19 vaccine development initiatives. Furthermore, we will continue our pursuit of identifying public health problems and work towards developing safe and affordable solutions. We want to target some of the most challenging diseases and deliver solutions to combat them. Our research laboratories have produced an impressive succession of innovative vaccines and bio-therapeutics.