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Pharmaceuticals

Published on: Aug. 10, 2020, 1:31 a.m.
Joining the Covid-19 war
  • Habil Khorakiwala. Picture credit: Sanjay Borade

By Sumit Ghoshal. Contributing Editor, Business India

In recent weeks, a great deal of public attention has been focused on the development, clinical trials and manufacture of vaccines against Covid-19. But pharmaceutical industry experts are acutely aware that even bigger challenges are awaiting them once the vaccine manufacture actually begins.

One of these is the delicate task of filling the bulk vaccine produced in large quantities into smaller containers such as single-dose ampoules or multi-dose vials.

Thus a major consignment of a vaccine might be sufficient to protect thousands of people against a particular infection (whether Covid-19 or any other virus disease such as polio). But it must still be transformed into much smaller batches before it can be administered to an individual person. This is similar to the process of creating pharmaceutical formulations from bulk drugs that are sold in huge drums or forms of other packaging.

With its long experience in producing injectable medicines of different varieties, drug major Wockhardt has now decided to offer its services in manufacturing small multi-dose vials of vaccines against Covid-19. To this end, it has reached an agreement with the UK government to convert the AstraZeneca version of the vaccine into smaller containers. This activity will be carried out in Wockhardt’s Wrexham production facility in Northern Wales.

Addressing a news conference last fortnight to announce the pact, Dr Habil Khorakiwala, chairman of Wockhardt, clearly pointed out that his company was not planning to produce the vaccine itself, as Serum Institute, Bharat Biotech and others were going to do. Wockhardt would also not sell its output directly in the market, either in the UK or in any other country.

Their entire production would be sold back to AstraZeneca who would then be at complete liberty to market it through its own distribution channels. Incidentally, AstraZeneca has concluded agreements with nearly a dozen companies and even some non-profit organisations such as CEPI (Coalition for Emergency Preparedness and Innovation) for distribution of their vaccine in different parts of the world.
 
Dr Khorakiwala also said that they would be open to similar agreements to any other company, in India or elsewhere for the conversion of bulk quantities of any other vaccine as well. Thus while they had reached their first agreement with the UK, they would be willing to offer their services to any company that requested it.

According to Dr Murtaza Khorakiwala, managing director and global CEO of Wockhardt, “The arrangement with the UK government for manufacturing vaccines for Covid-19 showcases our global strength in world-class sterile injectable facilities and capacity. With four decades of expertise and experience behind us we are able to quickly scale to manufacture and assist in mitigating the worldwide impact of Covid-19.”

Various UK officials also made appreciative remarks with reference to the Wockhardt arrangement. Thus Kate Bingham, Chair of UK Vaccines Task Force said, “Never before have we needed to find and manufacture a vaccine at this speed and scale in order to protect the UK population. We have made significant progress in securing a diverse portfolio of potential vaccines and treatments for Covid-19, adding a fourth vaccine candidate from GSK and Sanofi last fortnight.

However, discovering a successful vaccine is only part of the solution, we also need to be able to manufacture it. The agreement with Wockhardt will boost our capability to ensure that from the moment a successful vaccine is identified we will be able to produce the quantities of vaccine required, as quickly as possible, for the people who need it.”

Though the Wockhardt chairman refused to say how much revenue would be added to the company’s topline, it is probably going to be quite substantial. As word of the pact filtered through to the media, the company’s share price soared by nearly 15 per cent.

Wockhardt has reported a noticeable downturn in its business operations in almost every part of the world and was constrained to divest a sizeable portfolio of its products to Dr Reddy’s Laboratories just about a month ago (Business India: June 29-July 12). The Wockhardt news release issued in that context said that the sale was intended to shore up the company’s balance sheet and to make sufficient funds available for its forthcoming patented product – WCK 777. The new antibiotic product has recently been designated as a QIDP (Qualified Infectious Disease Product) by the USFDA.

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