Biocon Biologics-SII alliance should balance business and public health

As both leaders hint at the intangibles of the alliance, let's hope they make good their promise to both patients as well as shareholders
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While Prime Minister Modi used the 76th United Nations General Assembly’s general debate platform to invite the world to ‘Come, make vaccine in India,’ MSF warned of the ‘dramatic lack of access to vaccines, treatments and diagnostics in countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.”

Dr Maria Guevara, International Medical Secretary, MSF, warned that the longer the world is divided into COVID-19 haves and have-nots, the longer the pandemic will drag on, more variants can develop, and more deaths and suffering will occur.

Besides urging the world leaders at the UNGA to redistribute excess COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries, the MSF leader once again stressed the importance of sharing technology and know-how and asked governments to support the TRIPS waiver to remove IP barriers on COVID-19 medicines, vaccines and diagnostics.

She also touched on an issue which India has been holding out on: indemnity clauses on COVID-19 vaccines. Dr Guevara made the point that as vaccines receive full authorisation for use, this should be followed immediately by pharma companies resuming liability responsibility for their own products. Continued acceptance of this transfer of responsibility and talks of waivers only serves to normalise a set-up that should not have existed in the first place, according to MSF.

Indeed, even as PM Modi reminded the world at the UNGA that India has developed the world’s first DNA vaccine, for 12 years and above, and an mRNA vaccine that is in the final stages of development, India is engaging with mRNA vaccine makers like Pfizer and Moderna, without giving in on the indemnity clause.

As the debate on the need for vaccine boosters rages on, there is no doubt that it is both an ethical issue as well as a business one. On one hand, as MSF pointed out, middle and low-income nations are still unvaccinated. Yet, nations that can afford boosters have started administering them and are securing further doses. On the business side, COVID vaccines and therapeutics are a huge revenue opportunity for the pharma sector, especially contract development and manufacturing organisations (CDMOs). Initial findings of part one of the 2021 CPhI Annual Report predict an increasingly bullish outlook for CDMOs in the next two-to-three years. As per the report, booster vaccines and capacity constraints during a period of record.

R&D investment are driving up prices for specialised facilities, advanced therapies and biologics. The release quotes a GlobalData analysis which shows that almost 70 CDMOs were acquired by PE during the period 2018-2020, with a further eight acquisitions by PE-backed CDMOs. There is now a preference towards specialist CDMOs and biologicals, with COVID contracts providing a significant boost to the industry, with some 120 CMOs on record with at least one such deal.

The recent strategic alliance between Serum Institute of India (SII) and Biocon Biologics should be seen in this light. As Biocon Biologics parts with 15 per cent equity for 100 million doses of vaccines per year for 15 years, both leaders chose to stress on the intangibles beyond the business sense of the alliance.

As Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Executive Chairperson, Biocon and Biocon Biologics, commented, “Our shared vision of building large-scale businesses having global impact makes it a unique and synergistic value creation opportunity.”

And, Adar Poonawalla, CEO, SII, further spoke of “complementing each other’s capabilities and capacities in vaccines and biologics, with the objective of addressing inequitable access both in emerging and developed markets for life-saving vaccines and biologics.”

viveka.r@expressindia.com
viveka.roy3@gmail.com

Biocon BiologicsMSFpublic healthSerum Institute of IndiaUNGA
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