At AIF's online event, Serum Institute of India's CEO Adar Poonawalla provides insights into his decision to invest early in a vaccine and stresses the importance of international cooperation for future preparedness
BOSTON, March 25, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Adar Poonawalla's bold steps to address the pandemic have enabled India to play a pivotal role in battling a global health crisis. In a fireside chat with Nobel laureate Michael Kremer and the American India Foundation's Tasneem Chipty, Serum Institute of India CEO Poonawalla said, "I am trying to play a role that ensures equitable distribution of vaccines to the developing parts of the world. Nothing is stopping us from selling the vaccine for $7 or $8 today, but we have chosen consciously not to."
Watch Poonawalla's inspiring chat with Nobel laureate Michael Kremer and AIF's Tasneem Chiptyclick here or go to www.aif.org.
Poonawalla is well known for pushing the frontier by moving ideas into action. Under his leadership Serum Institute of India (SII) worked at record-breaking speed, deployed over $800 million in funding including over $250 million of its own funds, and in just 10 months manufactured and commenced distribution of a vaccine for COVID-19.
At the AIF event, Poonawalla stressed the importance of governments readying for the next pandemic by doing three things: pooling funds from countries for their respective regions, stockpiling of vaccinations and raw materials, and dedicating idle capacity for ready use.
AIF's CEO Nishant Pandey said, "COVID-19 has taken millions of lives and continues to threaten learning, livelihoods, and health for many more millions. We know that it will require bold individual and collective actions to defeat the virus. India has been playing a very important role helping the world in the global health crisis and I applaud the Serum Institute, under the leadership of Adar Poonawalla, which has been at the forefront in fighting the coronavirus pandemic."
Poonawalla emphasized that besides key financial decisions, he also had to ensure they were partnering with the right firm at the right stage of clinical development. SII also had to be mindful of investing in vaccine technologies for which the lack of cold chain storage in developing countries would not be a limiting factor. SII tested five different, unproven vaccine technologies before finally signing off on the successful one.
Committed to providing low-cost vaccination solutions for India's 1.3 billion citizens and people from 51 other countries, Poonawalla said, "Traditionally we have depended on economies of scale and passed on the benefits to governments and poorer nations. We always wanted to focus on the unmet needs of these nations."
Both Poonawalla and Dr. Kremer, an advisor to the IMF, emphasized that in-place capacity is more valuable than the capacity that comes later, as it can produce vaccines without delay. While Poonawalla advised governments to invest in capacity for multiple vaccine candidates rather than waiting for trials to be over, Kremer highlighted the losses associated with a failed vaccine candidate pale in comparison to GDP losses. The IMF estimated global GDP losses from COVID-19 at $12 trillion in 2020-2021, with an average monthly loss of $500 billion. Poonawalla aptly remarked, "This is where countries need to decide: do we need to spend money on a F16, or do we need to spend money on the idle capacity that's ready-to-go at the advent of a pandemic?"
AIF's CEO Nishant Pandey added, "The challenges facing communities require innovative, out of the box and courageous solutions but, more than that, they require a committed base of supporters who believe in giving back, who believe in AIF's mission of empowering women, children and youth in India and doing it in a way that it builds a lasting bridge between the two largest democracies of the world."
In March 2020 the American India Foundation served urgent hunger and hygiene needs for over 500,000 people across 17 Indian states and provided over 20,000 meals to frontline workers here in the U.S. AIF's programs are currently rebuilding the livelihoods of migrant workers, bridging the digital divide for their children's education, and supporting the community, health, and frontline workers with telehealth options.