Cover Story | Open Minds 2020: A Race Against Time
Krishna M Ella, 72, Chairman and Managing Director, Bharat Biotech
31 Jul, 2020
(Photo: Getty Images)
India is the vaccine manufacturing hub of the world. Cheap manufacturing costs and a large pool of scientific talent mean every one in three vaccines is manufactured at an Indian plant. Where India has lacked is original research. Rarely have entirely new vaccines been developed from scratch. It is here that Krishna M Ella is forging an entirely new path. After establishing Bharat Biotech in 1996, Ella has quietly been developing a number of vaccines for ailments, ranging from Japanese encephalitis, hepatitis B and swine-flu to the Zika virus, at a fraction of the cost of most other vaccines. In 2015, his Rotavirus vaccine, inducted into the WHO’s immunisation programme, was priced at about just $1 a dose. Now, tying up with ICMR and the National Institute of Virology, he’s using all his nous and ingenuity, balancing both government deadlines and scientific necessities, to develop a Covid-19 vaccine. Ella’s new facility in Karnataka is set to be one of the largest vaccine manufacturing units in Asia. It will also house a state-of-the-art cryogenic spice grinding plant, he says. One of the few entrepreneurs to admit that input imports have been crucial to the success of Indian pharma, Ella is a fierce critic of regressive policies that force pharma companies to look to the West for equipment and reagents.