Bharat's $1 rotavirus vaccine rolls out in India to challenge GSK, Merck

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing the launch of Rotavac--Courtesy of the Prime Minister's Office

Back in 2011, Indian company Bharat Biotech pledged to offer its rotavirus prospect at a price that undercut even discounted vaccines from GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Merck ($MRK). Now, it's ready to make good on its promise.

The country has rolled out Bharat's three-dose vaccine, Rotavac, at a rate of around 60 rupees--or just under one U.S. dollar.

"Today's launch fortifies our mission to identify public health problems and make affordable life-saving vaccines to children wherever they are born," Bharat's chairman and managing director, Krishna Ella, said in a statement.

The launch marks the end of a long development road. Since work on the vaccine began in 1985, partners like PATH, NIH, CDC and the Stanford University School of Medicine have all contributed, while the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Research Council of Norway, the U.K. Department of International Development and others all pitched in with financial support.

But consumers can thank Bharat's new manufacturing process for Rotavac's low price. The biotech has spent about $20 million to construct new facilities and supporting infrastructure at its Genome Valley plant, which boasts a capacity of 300 million doses per year, it said in a release.

It may not be long before India's market gains another competitor, though. Last October, Sanofi's ($SNY) Indian affiliate, Shantha Biotechnics, started work on a Phase III study for its own rotavirus candidate, and Sanofi Pasteur CEO Olivier Charmeil said the company was aiming to enlist organizations like GAVI to help provide the vaccine in developing nations at an affordable price.

- read the release

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