Adar Poonawalla: The scion behind India’s Covishield Vaccine

  • Adar Poonawalla is a buzzworthy name this year. The forty-year-old CEO of the Serum Institute (SII) is leading India’s fight against Covid-19 by manufacturing the Covishield vaccine. Cyrus Poonawalla, whose net worth is around $11.5 billion, founded the Serum Institute of India in 1996 and had stepped down from his position in 2011. 


    His son Adar Poonawalla joined him in 2001 after receiving a business management degree from the University of Westminster, England. Despite not holding an official position, he progressed soon and became an executive director by 2005-2006.


    Serum Institute of India under Adar Poonawalla


    The domestic market did not turn out profitable for them as the government was not investing enough in vaccines, neither were they quick with payments. Hence Adar Poonawalla decided to enter the international market. By 2006, Serum Institute was supplying vaccines internationally to 35 other countries as well. 


    Currently, their annual production is 60% for international release and 40% for India. He also got his products approved internationally and began supplying them to the World Health Organization (WHO) and other aid agencies across multiple countries in need.


    Growth of Serum Institute of India


    Since he became the CEO in 2011, Adar Poonawalla has broadened Serum Institute’s scope of business further. Traditionally, this family-owned private company has been vital in the DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus) and MMR (measles and mumps) families of vaccines. 


    In 2012, Adar Poonawalla led Serum Institute to its first high-profile international acquisition when it took over The Netherlands-based Bilthoven Biologicals for approximately $78 million. Later they also acquired a similar Czech company, Nanotherapeutics, for $81.4 million, making their hold on European sectors firm. 


    These deals gave him access to the technology needed for launching the oral and injectable polio vaccine in 2013. These also acted as a manufacturing base and as a strategic headquarter for Europe and the US. Despite his father’s opposition regarding the injectable polio vaccine, Adar Poonawalla went ahead with the plan. 


    Today, the vaccine in question generates about $70 million in revenue for Serum Institute and accounts for almost 10% of their profits. Adar Poonawalla has taken multiple steps to make vaccines accessible to ordinary people. He has made sure to sell the vaccines at a much lower price than his competitors like Pfizer and GSK. 


    According to data published by Serum Institute, 65 percent of the children in the world receive at least one vaccine produced by them. They have become a trusted partner to organizations such as the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the Gates Foundation. It also made the Poonawallas one of India’s wealthiest families, worth about $11 billion today. 


    Currently, their revenue for the latest fiscal year stands at $804 million. They are also set to invest $500 million into the UK market by next year.


    Poonawalla’s role in the ongoing battle against Covid-19


    Adar Poonawalla figured out early that they were one of the few in India who can develop and mass-produce a covid vaccine. In 2020 invested $800 million to help find a preventive vaccine for covid-19 and developed a vaccine by genetically modifying the common cold virus. This is now in the market as the “Covishield” vaccine. 


    The vaccine is implemented in precisely two doses, and they are priced moderately. The pricing scheme is decided keeping in mind the state of the developing nations, especially amidst the pandemic. Adar Poonawalla did not stop at that, and the SII continues to develop other covid vaccines with different partner firms. In February, Serum Institute partnered with Codagenix, a New York-based clinical-stage biotech company, to co-develop a single-dose intranasal Covid-19 vaccine. 


    This vaccine is said to remove the virus’s harmful properties while keeping the antigens. After successfully securing the Government of India’s approval, they are in the process of manufacturing the new and hopefully more effective vaccine. 

    Bottom Line 


    Although there is rising pressure on Adar Poonawalla’s shoulder considering the rising Covid mortality rate in India and overseas, he must up his game and manufacture faster and stronger vaccines to keep the world safe. His contribution in this ongoing fight has assisted several individuals and households, regardless of how bad the current situation is.