Business Saga

Serum Institute- World’s largest vaccine manufacturer

Authored By Ayush Verma, Student at RMLNLU, Lucknow.

The Serum Institute of India (SII) has been in vogue for quite a time for manufacturing the Covishield vaccine, in partnership with Oxford. It is being used as a protection from the novel Coronavirus in several countries. 

Serum Institute is a biotechnology and pharmaceuticals company based in India which was founded by Cyrus Poonawalla in 1966 in Pune. The company mainly produces vaccines for protection against Diphtheria, Hepatitis, Tetanus, Measles, Mumps etc. It is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by the no. of doses produced and sold globally. It provides vaccines to 170 nations through its WHO programmes.

A Strange Start

Cyrus Poonawalla, the chairman of the SII was the the owner of the India’s largest horse farm, Poonawalla Stud Farms. He used to donate the injured and retired horses to a government owned lab which used to make the tetanus vaccines and antivenom for snakebites from the retired horses’ blood.

But then due to lack of vaccines in India and high price of imported ones, Poonawalla decided to start his own lab on the farm in 1966 which came to be known as Serum Institute. 

To this date, the majority of the world’s child population have gotten a Serum vaccine.


The company has been solely owned by the Poonawallas from the start. Some years before they had decided to sell 10% stake of the company which could have been India’s largest private equity investment in value.

However, the deal could not take place and Mr. Poonawalla was glad about it. If the company goes public, their control over the firm would be diluted and the accountability would also arise towards shareholders, investors and bankers.

Major Acquisitions

SII made its first international acquisition in 2012 by acquiring Bilthoven Biologicals from the Netherlands government. The acquisition ensured access to technology and expertise in Injectable Polio Vaccine, which was earlier available with only 3 manufacturers.

Recently, SII had bought majority stake in NBFC Magma Fincorp for ₹3,450 crore, and minority stake in in the initial public offering (IPO) bound Policybazaar.


SII, led by Adar Poonawalla, recently announced that it will invest 240 mn British pounds to increase vaccine business and set up a new sales office in the UK. It is part of the 1bn British Pound India UK Enhanced Trade Partnership which will create 6500 jobs in the UK.

COVID Vaccine development

The company has partnered with five vaccine makers to fight the deadly virus, the biggest of them being AstraZeneca to manufacture its vaccine developed by Oxford, which is being sold in India as Covishield.

It also partnered with Novavax for the production of Novavax’s NVX-CoV2373 vaccine for India and other low and middle-income countries.

Technologies used by SII

SII uses high tech machinery, automated equipment and modern laboratories for the production and testing of its vaccines. Its technological advancements include robots for virus handling, cell factory and cell cube for growing cells. It uses high resolution CCD cameras and electric controlled panels for inspection to reduce errors normally done by humans. The production facilities are regularly updated to comply with cGMP regulations and have been accredited by the WHO, Geneva.


SII’s income and profit have been increasing since 2013-14. In FY20, its income was 5926 crores and profit was 2251 crores which is expected to increase by a huge margin in FY21 and in the coming time due to large scale manufacturing of COVID vaccine.

For example, if the company sells 50 crore doses to states at Rs 300, it will generate a revenue of 15000 crores. Moreover, recently Mr Poonawalla said that the company aims to produce 2.5bn doses in the next six months which implies that its income is going to increase manifold.

Other companies owned by Cyrus Poonawalla Group apart from SII

  • Poonawalla Finance, for providing loans to consumers and small businesses in 23 cities across the country;
  • Poonawalla Aviation;
  • Villoo Poonawalla Greenfield Farms;
  • Poonawalla Clean Energy;
  • Poonawalla Hospitality and Real Estate.


Although it is the world’s largest manufacturer and has planned to manufacture more than a billion doses for protection against COVID-19, it would be interesting to see how it actually fares.

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