On SII & Its Big Gamble On Covid Vaccine

On SII & Its Big Gamble On Covid Vaccine

The Serum Institute of India (SII) announced mass production of Covid-19 vaccine even before its clearance, taking a chance to ensure speedy delivery of vaccines if they clear the tests. Let us take a look at the history of the firm, with several achievements already in its collection.

Crux of the Matter

Serum Against Covid
The Drugs Controller General of India (DGCI) recently cleared the Serum Institute of India (SII) to conduct Phase II and III trials of Covid-19 vaccine in India, after successfully clearing the Phase-I. The vaccine is named ‘AZD1222’, and is being developed by the Oxford University in tie up with the British-Swedish pharma giant AstraZeneca.

SII CEO Adar Poonawalla had announced to start production as soon as the Phase-I was cleared, and the institute has initiated the production after the recent clearing of Phase-I. The aim to make the vaccine available on a large-scale in a short time is cited as the reason for starting the production before the clearance, and the vaccines would be available to public only after the clearance of all requisite tests.

Poonawalla recently declared that he would be spending $450 million on the mass production of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Serum Testing
Mylabs Discovery Solution and the SII recently launched Covid-19 testing kits that can conduct 32 tests/hr.

History Of The Serum Institute Of India

  • The Serum Institute of India (SII) is the largest vaccine producer in the world, producing over 1.5 billion vaccine doses per year against diseases like Polio, Tetanus, Hepatitis-B, etc.
  • The company was founded in 1966 by Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla, who started with a fund of $12,000 to “diversify” his income from ‘horse-breeding’. The Poonawalla family owns the largest stud farm in India.
  • Currently, Dr. Cyrus is the 165th richest man in the world with a worth of $11.8 billion, and was ranked 19th in the list of the richest Indians (2019).
  • The company started with the production of ‘Tetanus Antitoxin’ in 1967.
  • The SII recorded a revenue of $840 million as of November 2019.
  • The Poonawallahs invested $4.1 billion to open the Poonawalla Biotech Park in Majari, Pune, which is the largest vaccine facility in the world.

Vaccine Empire

  • 65% of children worldwide are estimated to receive at least one vaccine dose produced by the SII.
  • 2010: The SII launched the Nasovac nasal vaccine for H1N1 (Swine flu) virus, which is a single dose vaccine to be sniffed once in each nostril.
  • 2012: The SII acquired Bilthoven Biologicals of Netherlands, and obtained technology to make the IPV (Injectable Polio Vaccine, Salk) which was possessed by only 3 other vaccine producers earlier.
  • November 2014: Serum signed a deal with Cipla to market its paediatric vaccines across the world.
  • May 2015: Cipla agreed to market the influenza drug made by Serum across India.
  • 2017: The SII launched Rabishield (Rapid action drugs against Rabies) in partnership with the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
  • July 2020: The SII developed the first Indian vaccine against pneumonia, named the “Pneumosil” or ‘Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Conjugate Vaccine (PPSV23)’.
    The firm is expected to produce 100 million doses per year, with 40-50 million doses being reserved for Indians.
  • SII has received approbation for its low cost of vaccines, with doses of several of Serum’s vaccines costing as low as ₹5 per dose.

  • Dr. Cyrus S. Poonawalla is an Indian Parsi businessman, also known as the “vaccine king of India”. Hurun Global Rich List – 2019 listed Dr. Poonawalla as the 4th richest person in India and 100th in the world with a net worth of $13 billion.
  • Adar Poonawalla is the chief executive officer (CEO) of Serum Institute of India. He initiated and launched in 2014 Serum Institute’s oral polio vaccine, which became a bestseller for the company. In 2017, Modi nominated Adar Poonawalla as brand ambassador for Swachh Bharat.
  • Serum is the fluid and solute component of blood which does not play a role in clotting. The study of serum is serology. Serum is used in numerous diagnostic tests as well as blood typing.

A Look At India’s Cinema Business

A Look At India's Cinema Business

The government has announced Unlock 3.0 and plans to open gyms and yoga centres, but cinemas have not been given a green signal. On the other hand, prominent cinema chains in India released Standard Operating Procedures regarding what kind of movie experience the audience can expect in the time of Covid-19. Let’s have a look at the business of cinema and how it has been affected by Coronavirus.

Crux of the Matter

Cinemas To Not Open In Unlock 3.0
The government has decided to open gyms and yoga centres, however, educational institutes and cinemas have not been given permission to open yet. It is expected that respective state governments will take the final call whether to open cinema houses once the Centre gives a nod. Producers and directors such as Anurag Basu, Sudhir Mishra, and others have said that theaters shouldn’t be open till the vaccine is found, whereas R Balki, Anubhav Sinha, and others have said that theaters should be opened with precautionary measures.

Propose Operating Producer
Cinema chains have proposed Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for running theatres with precautionary measures. Theaters will screen movies with only 25-30% audience in the hall. Moreover, Arogya Setu would be mandatory for entering the theatre’s premises. Customer screening will be done and those having temperature of 100° F or more and/or with any symptoms of cold or fever will not be given entry.

The floor will be marked with spots 1 meter apart and sanitizers will be made available throughout the theatre. There will be a gap of one seat between viewers and interval timing will be extended to avoid crowding. Ultraviolet cabinets will be used to disinfect food servings. In addition to these precautions, the air-conditioning system will be revamped to pump fresh air into the theater.

How Do Cinema Houses Earn?
A Producer funds money for all expenses needed to make a movie including actors fee, promotion, and advertisement cost, etc. After the completion of the movie, produce sells the rights of the movie to the Distributors. Currently, there are 14 circuits in India and each circuit has its own “distributor representative”. These distributors sign agreements with theater owners. After signing the agreement theaters pay distributors on a weekly basis as per the agreement after deducting Entertainment Tax (different states have different entertainment tax). Once the distributor has received the sum, it disburses the share of theatre.

On average Entertainment Tax is around 30%. For multiplexes, the standard structure is this: the distributor gets 50% of what theatres earn in 1st week, then 42% of what is earned in 2nd week, then 37% of what is earned in 3rd week and then 30% fixed of what is earned from 4th week.

Emerging OTT Platforms A Threat?
OTT platforms are now bringing changes to the entertainment sector. Currently, there are 40 OTT platforms operating in India. The Indian film industry has suffered an estimated loss of ₹30 billion and the global industry has suffered ~₹750 bn loss due to lockdown. Time spent by the Indian OTT user base has increased from 20 minutes to 50 minutes per day during the lockdown. Theatres may become a luxury experience and experts say that the film industry can only thrive by integrating with new technology.

  • PVR Cinemas stands for Priya Village Roadshow. It’s a joint venture agreement between India’s Priya Exhibitors Private Limited and Australia’s Village Roadshow Limited.
  • Maratha Mandir is a cinema hall located in Maratha Mandir Marg, Mumbai. This cinema hall has a long-standing reputation and is one of the most famous landmarks in Mumbai. The theatre created a record after screening the movie Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge for 1009 weeks since its release in 1995, on 19 February 2015.
  • A drive-in theater or drive-in cinema is a form of cinema structure consisting of a large outdoor movie screen, a projection booth, a concession stand, and a large parking area for automobiles. Theatre de Guadalupe from Mexico was one of the first drive-in theatres.

Indian Testing Kits And Medicines Against Covid-19

Indian Testing Kits And Medicines Against Covid-19

Here is a round-up of all the potential candidates put forward by Indian firms, that can help us in this fight against the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. How many Indian firms are getting approvals for medicines and testing kits? Does India have the potential to reduce dependency on China for Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients?

Crux of the Matter

Covid-19 Antigen Rapid Testing Kit
Mylab Discovery Solutions has become the first Indian firm to have received commercial approval from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). It had officially announced its ‘Pathocatch’ Covid-19 antigen rapid testing kits earlier this week.

It is one of three suppliers of such kits, the other two being South Korea-based SD Biosensor and Belgium-based Coris Bioconcept. Mylab antigen test cost ₹450 per unit while its RT-PCR test kits are ₹1,000 per unit.

SII Testing Kit
Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) along with Mylabs has launched testing kits to detect Covid-19 by increasing the test rate.

As per SII CEO Adar Poonawalla, Automated Molecular Covid Test Machine minimises human interaction and reduces time by conducting 32 tests per hour.

SII is the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines by volume as it produces 1.5 billion+ doses every year. Oxford-AstraZeneca will together conduct experimental testing in India, in collaboration with SII. Study findings of the phase 3 trials found out last week that the vaccine, named, AZD1222 is safe and immunogenic.

Zydus In Vaccine Race
Zydus Cadila has started clinical trials of its Covid-19 vaccine ZyCoV-D, with the first human dosing. It is looking to complete the clinical trials in seven months. After completing phase 1 and phase 2 in the next 3 months, they will submit the data to the regulator who will analyse the study finding and give a thumbs up.

Biocon’s Breakdown
Indian Pharmaceutical Biocon suffered a setback earlier this week, as the Union health ministry announced that the firm’s itolizumab drug is not part of the national treatment protocol for Covid-19.

They cited “very less evidence in favour of this medicine.” Several independent experts additionally questioned their use of just 30 patients for the trial. In defense, Biocon noted that it is a drug that was approved previously for psoriasis, and this was only a label extension.

Overall Global Statistics
As per WHO, 25 candidate vaccines are in one of the three stages of human trials. These include Indian companies, Zydus and Bharat Biotech. As of the date of publishing this, another 139 are in pre-clinical evaluation i e still being tried out on animals.

US-based Moderna Therapeutics was the earliest mover, with it entering phase-III trials, and 30,000 volunteers have been roped in for the same. Some are injected with the real vaccine and others are given fake ones, wherein the researchers expect to see a lower infection rate in the former. Then, in the subsequent weeks, it will be seen whether they have been infected or not. It is being hoped to be completed by October 2022.

Indian API Firms Gain As China Loses Some More
India’s Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) firms have reported increased interest from worldwide customers due to nations wanting to lessen their dependency on China. This is great news because we have the world’s highest number of USFDA Approved API facilities, making it a critical part of the global supply chain.

India has an import reliance of 63% of bulk drugs, costing $34 billion which would have to be lowered in the long term. Currently, the government has announced a scheme of ₹7000 crores to promote key API firms.

  • Point-of-care testing is defined as medical diagnostic testing at or near the point of care, at the time and place of patient care. This contrasts with the historical pattern in which testing was wholly or mostly confined to the medical laboratory, which entailed sending off specimens away from the point of care and then waiting hours or days to learn the results.
  • OraQuick is an at-home HIV test manufactured by Orasure Technologies in 2012. It is one of the two at-home HIV tests available with the other one named Home Access HIV-1 Test System. The test results can either be invalid, positive, or negative.
  • In medicine and statistics, a gold standard test is usually the diagnostic test or benchmark that is the best available under reasonable conditions. Other times, a gold standard is the most accurate test possible without restrictions.

Bill Gates: Vaccine And Philanthropy

Bill Gates: Vaccine And Philanthropy

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates recently announced the possible large scale production of Covid-19 vaccine by next year, adding to his long list of philanthropic works.

Crux of the Matter

Covid-19 Vaccine And Aid
Bill Gates recently announced that 200 million Covid-19 vaccine kits could be made by June 2021 by the SK Bioscience of South Korea. In May, Gates had donated $3.6 million to SK Bioscience to “accelerate” the vaccine development.

Covid Aid
Gates funded the Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network (SCAN) in May, which is a disease surveillance programme collecting data like age, gender, previous medical conditions, etc. to monitor the spread. In May, Gates donated $50 million to Therapeutics Accelerator to accelerate the development of drugs against Covid-19, and another $50 million to the worldwide vaccine alliance Gavi.

Towards Philanthropy

  • Bill Gates stepped down as Microsoft CEO in 2000 and was replaced by Steve Ballmer. Gates also left the Microsoft board in March 2020.
  • Gates has donated $45.5 billion to charity since 1994.
  • In 2000, the ‘Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’ was formed through the merger of the ‘William H. Gates Foundation’ and the ‘Gates Library Foundation’. The aim of the foundation is to reduce global poverty, improve healthcare, and provide education opportunities.
  • 2010: Gates launched the ‘Giving Pledge’ to invite billionaires to donate more than 50% of wealth to charitable causes.
  • 2014: Gates donated more than $50 million to fight the Ebola outbreak in Africa.
  • 2018: Gates promised the donation of $1 billion by 2023 to counter malaria, and has committed $2.9 billion to fight malaria to date.

Inheritance Of His Wealth
Bill Gates has been engaged in philanthropy since the 1990s. He has declared that his 3 children would receive $10 million each in inheritance. With a total net worth of $113 billion (as of July 2020), more than 99.9% of his wealth would be donated to charity, with less than 0.1% being received by his children in inheritance.

Controversies Around Gates
More than 600k signatures have been reached for a petition against Bill Gates, which accuses him of ‘medical malpractice’.

First such claims emerged in April, claiming that through the SCAN and other testing, Gates was attempting to plant “chips” inside human beings.

In the petition filed, Gates’s recent TED talk was taken out of context to suggest that he wants to use vaccination to reduce the population by “10-15%”. In reality, Gates has claimed at several places that parents have several children only if they know that most of them would die due to poor health. Consequently, reduced child mortality due to vaccination would make parents naturally reduce their family size.

  • Pirates of Silicon Valley is an original 1999 American made for television biographical drama film. It explores the impact that the rivalry between Jobs and Gates had on the development of the personal computer.
  • “Anti-vax” is a reluctance or refusal to be vaccinated or to have one’s children vaccinated against contagious diseases despite the availability of vaccination services. It is identified by the World Health Organization as one of the top ten global health threats of 2019.
  • In 2019, Melinda Gates debuted as an author with the book The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World. The book highlights the failure to acknowledge women’s unpaid work, drawing on feminist economist Dame Marilyn Waring’s book If Women Counted.

What Is Herd Immunity?

What Is Herd Immunity?

With recent studies showing more prevalence of the Covid-19 virus than the official records, experts have pointed to the possibility of herd immunity springing up soon. Let us understand what herd immunity is and how it has fared in several nations.

Crux of the Matter

Herd Immunity
The spread of a disease decreases or stops if a sufficient number of people develop the requisite antibodies. These antibodies are formed either through infection and then recovery, or through vaccination. After a sufficient number is achieved, the disease becomes unable to spread through these people which breaks the chain of the disease spread. The infection then becomes sporadic or eventually stops.

India Heading For Herd Immunity?
Sero Survey
A sero survey was recently conducted on 21,387 people in Delhi. It was found that 23% of the tested people had developed antibodies against Covid-19 through exposure to the virus (vaccine against Covid-19 not available yet).

The population of Delhi s estimated to be 1.9 crore, and 1.25 lakh cases were reported as of 22nd July. However, according to the sero survey, the actual number of cases in the city can be around 40 lakh, which is much higher than the official number.

Thyrocare, a private pathology lab recently conducted a survey of 60,000 samples, collected from 600 different Pin Codes across India. The study showed that 15% of the total population of India, or more than 20 crore Indians have developed antibodies against Covid-19 after contracting the disease at some point.

Expert’s Opinion
Jayaprakash Muliyil, chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the National Institute of Epidemiology, expressed positive opinion over the recent surveys. He claimed that herd immunity would be achieved once 50-60% of the people get infected and recover, and that the immunity lasts “for a long time, maybe even for a lifetime”.

Cons Of Herd Immunity
Completely unchecked spread of Covid-19 will shoot up the mortality rate. Notably, several reports are claiming that immunity against Covid-19 is temporary, which might increase the risk of another wave of a pandemic. There is also a conflict over the required percentage, with experts’ claims ranging from 50% to 75%.

Herd Immunity Models Across The Globe
Sweden did not impose a lockdown, and marked masks and social distancing as voluntary measures. The government allowed schools, restaurants, gyms, etc to remain open, and claimed that the country would have better immunity when the “second wave hits”.

While the government closed restaurants and bars, people were allowed to stay outside without any necessary work. The government also “advised” social distancing rather than making it mandatory.

While the country fared better than Sweden with 356 deaths per million, overall it fared worse than neighbouring countries like Germany, even with a higher percentage of young population.

The government initially allowed all schools and major social events to remain functional. Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed that evidence exists to show how lockdowns do not have any major impact on controlling the spread of Covid-19. The government also claimed that “it’s not possible to stop everybody getting it [Covid-19] and it’s also actually not desirable because you want some immunity in the population”.

The government applied lockdown within a week of the initial declaration, shutting all non-essential businesses and major events. The death rate of the country reached 670 per million, placing it amongst the top 5 of the world. In comparision, US has a death rate of 442/million, whereas India has death rate of 22/million.

  • Sweden has one of the most highly developed welfare states in the world. According to a 2012 OECD report, the country had the second-highest public social spending as a percentage of its GDP after France, and the third-highest total social spending at 30.2% of its GDP, after France and Belgium.
  • To date, two diseases have been eradicated using herd immunity and vaccination: rinderpest and smallpox. Eradication efforts that rely on herd immunity are currently underway for poliomyelitis, though civil unrest and distrust of modern medicine have made this difficult.
  • Ring vaccination is a strategy to inhibit the spread of a disease by vaccinating only those who are most likely to be infected. Herd immunity is integral to successful implementation of ring vaccination.