Bharat Biotech, government cash and partners in hand, aims for 700M COVID-19 shots per year

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Bharat Biotech and the Serum Institute of India recently received hundreds of millions from India's government to boost COVID-19 vaccine production. (wildpixel/GettyImages)

With COVID-19 cases mounting, India has equipped local drugmaker Bharat Biotech with government cash to rapidly scale up its vaccine output this year. 

Bharat plans to upgrade at two plants to boost production of its COVID-19 vaccine Covaxin to nearly 700 million doses a year, Mint reports. The lift comes after the Indian government awarded the drugmaker nearly $200 million to upgrade capacity amid a sharp rise in local coronavirus infections.

Bharat has more help on the way, too, thanks to a trio of government-funded manufacturing partners that will come online later this year. The country has tasked Bharat with doubling its vaccine output by June and producing around 100 million doses per month by September.

To hit that target, Bharat is beefing up capacity at one of its three plants in Hyderabad and repurposing an existing animal vaccine factory in Bengaluru. The company says it has locked up raw materials, packaging supplies and more, and is now sourcing its adjuvant domestically in a bid to cut out imports.

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Bharat expects to kick off production in about two months, Mint previously reported.

The company also tapped local vaccine juggernaut Indian Immunologicals to produce drug substance for the vaccine, which snared emergency clearance in India alongside AstraZeneca’s shot in early January. The new partners have already started tech transfer, Bharat said in a statement quoted by Mint.

Indian Immunologicals is one of three manufacturers India tasked with shoring up Covaxin supplies, alongside Maharashtra government-owned Haffkine Biopharmaceutical and Bharat Immunologicals and Biologicals.

The government awarded Haffkine 650 million rupees (around $8.63 million) to start manufacturing 20 million doses per month six months from now, while Indian Immunologicals and Bharat Immunologicals have received undisclosed sums to each manufacture around 10 million to 15 million doses a month, Mint reports.

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Bharat says it’s looking to forge manufacturing upgrades with its partners in other countries, too. The company has teamed up with gene therapy specialist Ocugen stateside, which is on deck for clinical development, regulatory filing and commercialization in the U.S. Under the deal, the companies will split potential Covaxin profits in the U.S., with Ocugen in line for 45%.

Meanwhile, Bharat and local compatriot the Serum Institute of India got some major relief from the government. India on Monday approved a 30 billion rupee ($400 million) grant for the Serum Institute and around 15 billion rupees ($199.27 million) for Bharat to scale up their vaccine making operations, Times of India reports.

With cash in hand, the Serum Institute aims to produce more than 100 million doses of its AstraZeneca-licensed shot per month by the end of May, up from around 70 million doses per month now.