Biocon said late on 16 September 2021 that its subsidiary Biocon Biologics will sell a 15% stake to Serum Institute of India (SII) subsidiary Serum India Lifesciences for access to 100 million doses of vaccines annually for 15 years, including Covid-19 shots. The post-money valuation of Biocon Biologics is reported at US$ 4.9 billion (Indian Rs 36,000 crore), which would value the 15% stake at around US$ 735 million or Rs 4,200 crore. Our readers will recall that Serum Institute of India also recently took over the 50% stake of the Indian partners in glass and pharma vial manufacturer Schott-Kaisha.
Reuters reports that in January, Abu Dhabi-based investment firm ADQ invested US$ 75.47 million (Indian Rupees 555 crore) in Biocon Biologics for a 1.8% stake. On the day following the late evening announcement – early in the day on 17 September 2021, Biocon’s shares rose as much as 4.6%. However, Biocon gave up the gains to ultimately trade 0.67% lower amid losses in the broader market – which fell after rising for four consecutive days to new highs.
SII makes AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine under license under the Indian brand name Covishield and is said to be the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. It is reported that the deal will focus on the Covid-19 vaccine in the initial years. Biocon’s executive chairperson Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw said the pharmaceutical ingredients subsidiary BBL, would gain a foothold in the vaccine manufacturing space as the collaboration gains traction.
The Biocon unit and the SII Life Sciences subsidiary will make and distribute vaccines and antibody treatments as part of the deal. In addition, the alliance of the two subsidiaries plans to target infectious diseases such as dengue and HIV by entering into service level agreements. Biocon Biologics will also invest in setting up a research division for vaccines, with SII chief executive officer Adar Poonawalla getting a seat on Biocon Biologics’ board.
Two-year plan for mRNA vaccine platform
There is a plan to develop a messenger RNA (mRNA) platform for future therapies and vaccines. Poonawalla said, “We are building a facility to handle a few million doses, if not a billion doses of mRNA products. This will take about two years to build and allow BBL to do research and get the product ready, which we can eventually manufacture.”
Significantly, Poonawalla would like the developments to overcome some of the current mRNA constraints on long-term efficacy and cold chain requirement, adding, “We are discussing that if we do embark on an mRNA candidate, it should be stable at plus 2 to minus 8 degrees Celcius.”
Ramping up Covishield to 200 million doses monthly in October
While there is a current ban on Covid-19 vaccine exports in India, Poonawalla said SII was trying to strengthen its supply chain and source raw materials from within the country. The two alliance partners would like to become self-reliant in the raw material space for vaccines in essential areas such as resins, cell media, and bio-reactor bags. This might entail joint procurement, long-term orders, or even acquisitions in the future.
At a media briefing on 17 September, Poonawala said that SII also expects to ramp up its Covishield manufacturing capacity to 200 million doses a month from October onward. He added that he hopes export constraints will also be eased in the coming months. At the same time, SII is manufacturing and stockpiling the Novavax Covid-19 vaccine produced under license, which is yet to be approved by the Indian health authorities.