Gujarat govt in talks with Bharat Biotech to ramp up production of Covaxin: DBT

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New Delhi, May 15 (PTI) To ramp up production of Covaxin, the Gujarat government, along with Hester Biosciences and OmniBRx, has firmed up its discussions with Bharat Biotech to produce 20 million doses per month, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) said on Saturday.

This is in addition to ramping up production capacity by roping in three public sector companies -- Haffkine Biopharmaceutical Corporation Ltd, Mumbai, a PSU under the Maharashtra government, Indian Immunologicals Limited (IIL), Hyderabad, a facility under National Dairy and Bharat Immunologicals and Biologicals Limited (BIBCOL), Bulandshahr, a PSU under the DBT.

The DBT had announced the plan last month to ramp up the production capacity.

'Further, Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre, Department of Science and Technology Govt of Gujarat along with Hester Biosciences and OmniBRx has also firmed up its discussions with Bharat Biotech to scale up the COVAXIN technology and to produce minimum 20 million doses per month. Technology transfer agreements have been finalised with all manufacturers,” the DBT said in a statement.

Under Mission COVID Surkasha, financial support is being provided as grant from the Centre to the tune of approximately Rs 65 crore to Bharat Biotech's new Bangalore facility which is being repurposed to increase the capacity of vaccine.

The production capacity of Covaxin is expected to reach more than 10 crore doses per month by September, the DBT said.

Earlier this week, Delhi Chief Minister and AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying the Centre should share the vaccine formula of Covaxin and Covishield with other capable pharmaceutical companies to scale up production in the country.

In a media briefing of the Health Ministry on Saturday, V K Paul, Member (Health), Niti Aayog, without naming Kejriwal, said, 'Some people say that tie-ups happened after we said (but) tie-ups don't happen like this. Transfer of complex technologies do not happen like this.' Paul said making Covaxin is not easy as it involves inactivating a live virus which requires a Biosafety Laboratory-3 which is not available with every company.

Referring to the tie-ups, Paul said Bharat Biotech, with the support of the government, has collaborated with three PSUs.

'Our teams went and assessed the situation. Agreements were signed, they were explained about the technology. It is because of these efforts that arrangements have been formalised. A lot of thinking, efforts and arrangements have gone into this,' he stressed.

He said work is also on to see where the vaccines can be produced at other places.

Paul said 7.5 crore doses are expected to be produced by August and 10 crore by September.

Separately, in Maharashtra, the Bombay High Court recently permitted Biovet to take possession of a ready-to-use vaccine manufacturing plant, built on a 12-hectare plot at Manjari in Pune, to produce Covaxin.

On Friday, Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister C N Ashwath Narayan had said the state would soon have a Covaxin-manufacturing plant of Bharat Biotech in Kolar district.

The construction work has already begun and the government has invited investors to make the vaccine in the state, he said.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday had announced plans for the second dose of the vaccines to be accelerated from 12 to eight weeks for all over-50s to provide greater protection against the B.1.617, also known as the double mutant which is widely found in India.

The announcement came a day later when the government decided to increase the interval between Covishield doses to 12-16 weeks.

Defending the government's decision, Paul said the decision was evidence based.

'It (the UK's decision) was driven by science. This is a dynamic process. They took their decision based on circumstances and scientific basis,” he said.

Paul said the UK's decision is based on its conditions, science and epidemiology.

'We have taken this decision looking at our epidemiology, our risks, be it mutant or pandemic,” Paul said.

On vaccines, Paul on Thursday had estimated that 216 crore doses are likely to be produced between August and December, including 75 crore doses of Covishield and 55 crore doses of Covaxin.

Further, Biological E is expected to produce 30 crore doses, Zydus Cadila 5 crore, Serum Institute of India 20 crore doses of Novavax, and Bharat Biotech 10 crore doses of its nasal vaccine, while Gennova will make available 6 crore doses and Sputnik V 15.6 crore doses, he said.

The vaccine candidates of Biological E, Zydus Cadila, Gennova, Bharat Biotech's nasal vaccine are in various stages of clinical trials. PTI PR/ASG SNE