By Mohammed Shafeeq
Hyderabad, Dec 20 : Amid the gloom caused by COVID-19, one sector which provided a ray of hope was life sciences and turning the challenge into an opportunity, Hyderabad fortified its position as a global force in the world of pharmaceuticals.
This southern city, already recognised as a global information technology destination, proved its prowess in the field of pharmaceuticals and biotechnology and emerged as the vaccine capital of the world.
Already known as the bulk drug capital of India, Hyderabad witnessed manufacturing of lifesaving COVID-19 drugs like Remdesivir, Hydroxychloroquine and Favipiravir by some of the top pharma companies based here.
This was followed by hectic efforts in the city to develop COVID-19 vaccine. In fact, Hyderabad has emerged as the nerve centre of all research and development activities in the country for COVID-19 vaccines and has even attracted international attention.
Today, almost all the vaccines being developed in the country for the pandemic have a Hyderabad connect.
Four of the six companies developing COVID vaccines in India are based in Hyderabad. Bharat Biotech is currently conducting Phase III clinical trials of India’s first indigenous COVID-19 vaccine Covaxin.
Covaxin is being developed in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) – National Institute of Virology (NIV). This indigenous, inactivated vaccine is being developed and manufactured in Bharat Biotech’s BSL-3 (Bio-Safety Level 3) bio-containment facility at Genome Valley here.
According to Bharat Biotech, Covaxin has been evaluated in approximately 1,000 subjects in Phase I and Phase II clinical trials, with promising safety and immunogenicity results.
The Phase III human clinical trials of the vaccine began in November, involving 26,000 volunteers across India. This is India’s first and only Phase III efficacy study for a COVID-19 vaccine, and the largest phase III efficacy trial ever conducted for any vaccine in India.
“Covaxin has garnered interest from several countries worldwide for supplies and introduction,” said Suchitra Ella, Joint Managing Director of Bharat Biotech.
In April, Bharat Biotech announced development of CoroFlu, an intranasal vaccine for Coronavirus. University of Wisconsin–Madison and vaccine company FluGen along with Bharat Biotech began the development and testing of CoroFlu. The Hyderabad based company will produce almost 300 million doses of vaccine for global distribution.
In May, Bharat Biotech and Thomas Jefferson University of Philadelphia signed an exclusive deal to develop a new vaccine candidate for COVID-19 invented at Jefferson. The novel vaccine was developed using an existing deactivated rabies vaccine as a vehicle for coronavirus proteins.
Bharat Biotech claimed to have excellent track record of innovation with more than 140 global patents, a wide product portfolio of more than 16 vaccines, 4 bio-therapeutics, registrations in more than 116 countries and WHO Pre-qualifications.
The company has so far developed vaccines for H1N1, Rotavirus, Japanese Encephalitis, Rabies, Chikungunya, Zika and the world’s first conjugated vaccine for Typhoid. It has delivered more than four billion doses of vaccines worldwide. It is also the largest Rabies vaccine manufacturer in the world.
Another city-based firm Biological E last month initiated clinical trial of its COVID-19 subunit vaccine candidate in India following approval from the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI).
BE is making the vaccine in collaboration with Dynavax Technologies Corporation (Dynavax), a US-based vaccine focused biopharmaceutical company, and Baylor College of Medicine, a health sciences university in Houston.
Biological E has also signed an agreement with Johnson & Johnson to produce the latter’s vaccine at its vaccine production facilities and sell them both in India and export across various global markets.
Indian Immunologicals, a human and animal vaccines maker, too is developing a vaccine for COVID.
Hyderabad-based pahrma major Dr Reddy’s Laboratories is conducting clinical trials of Russian COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V. Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, has collaborated with Dr Reddy’s to conduct clinical trials and distribute the vaccine in India.
Hyderabad was under spotlight with the recent visits by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and ambassadors of more than 60 countries to the facilities of Bharat Biotech and Biological E in Genome Valley
Telangana’s industry minister K. T. Rama Rao believes that Hyderabad has cemented its position as the vaccine capital of the world.
He pointed out that Hyderabad is already manufacturing more than two billion doses of vaccines every year, which is one-third of the global vaccine output.
The city, with its strong ecosystem, has played a critical role in making India not only self-sufficient in the medicine manufacture but also turned it into the pharmacy capital of the world. It accounts for 40 per cent of the total Indian bulk drugs and 50 per cent of the bulk drug exports.
Industry leaders believe that Hyderabad will be an integral part of the global efforts to vaccinate the world against COVID.
Even if no vaccine is developed in the city, the city will still have a big role to play in global vaccination efforts with the sheer vaccine manufacturing capacity it houses.
Hyderabad has the largest US FDA approved vaccine facilities. They have the capacity to manufacture millions of doses with world-class standards.
“India’s vaccine sector will play a critical role in developing and producing vaccine at scale for distribution across the world. Hyderabad’s importance in the global vaccine landscape is only growing,” K.T. Rama Rao said.
Telangana government has assured the companies that it will play the enabling role in global vaccination efforts against COVID-19.
The Hyderabad airport announced few days ago that has developed necessary infrastructure to handle the exports.
As per the industry insights, most of India’s vaccine export will be to Africa, Latin America and Asian destinations.
Hyderabad is already home to more than 800 life sciences companies and the sector employs over 1,20,000 pharmaceutical professionals.
It is said to be the only city in the country to house more than 20 incubation centres focused only on life sciences and health-tech. More than 200 start-ups are also working on innovative solutions in healthcare.
Genome Valley is India’s first organised cluster for life sciences R&D activities spread across 600 square kilometers. Set up in 1999, it has world-class infrastructure facilities in the form of Industrial / Knowledge parks, Special Economic Zones (SEZs), Multi-tenanted dry and wet laboratories and incubation facilities.
It is home to more than 200 companies including presence of the marquee global names like Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, Ferring Pharma, Chemo, DuPont, Ashland, United States Pharmacopeia and Lonza.
With Hyderabad Pharma City also likely to be operational soon, the city is looking to ramp-up production of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) and thus develop a cluster to help the country compete with China.
The new project is expected to create 1,70,000 direct jobs and 5,60,000 indirect jobs.