Bharat Biotech is an Indian biotechnology company founded in 1996 by Krishna M. Ella and his wife, Suchitra Ella. Its headquarters are located in Hyderabad. It has sold around 4 billion vaccines all over the world. It claims that it is the world’s first biotechnology company to have developed the following vaccines:
- Eco-friendly recombinant Hepatitis-B vaccine (free of cesium chloride and Thiomersal)
- Rotavirus vaccine from a naturally attenuated strain
- Typhoid Conjugate vaccine
The company was started with a seed funding of 12.5 crore. It included equity of 3 crore from promoters and 2 crore from IDBI Bank. The rest of the amount included a loan from the IDBI Bank and Technology Department Board of the Department of Science and Technology. In 2002, it became the first Indian company to receive two grants from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop vaccines for protection against malaria and rotavirus.
Bharat Biotech’s half of the revenue comes from the Government of India and other developing countries. It is also a part of several mass immunisation programmes launched by multilateral agencies like UNICEF, WHO and Gavi which contribute to its revenue. Some of its vaccines helping in treatment and prevention of Polio, Rotavirus and Typhoid have been pre-qualified by WHO and are sold in developing countries through various UN agencies by participating in public tenders. However, the vaccines are sold at a really low price in the public market.
Recent Deals and Acquisitions
In 2019, Bharat Biotech had acquired 100% stake in Chiron Behring Vaccines from GlaxoSmithKline Asia, for an amount that remains undisclosed, in an all cash transaction. This acquisition made Bharat Biotech the world’s largest manufacturer of Rabies vaccine.
It has also recently bought 47.06% of the company’s optionally convertible preference shares from the ICICI venture for around 130 crore through Biovet Pvt Ltd. However, it must be noted that the preference shares have been bought from the ICICI after 14 years, which in 2006 had invested about 12 crore in the BBIL, alongwith International Finance Corporation(IFC). It needs to be noted that IFC still continues to hold the stake in the company.
Last year, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), in collaboration with Ind-CEPI, awarded US $14.1 million to Bharat Biotech for development of Chikungunya vaccine. It has also received a grant of US $18.5 million by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2015 for the development of Rotavirus vaccine.
COVID Vaccine development
It has developed India’s first indigenous COVID-19 vaccine called COVAXIN in partnership with Indian Council of Medical Research (‘ICMR’). It is an inactivated vaccine that has been developed similarly to the polio vaccine. Although the vaccine is being given to people around the world, it faced a lot of challenges during its trials and is continuing to face them even now.
Challenges faced by COVAXIN
Bharat Biotech had announced, for the first time in April 2020 that it is going to develop the COVID-19 vaccine. It also got approval and virus strains from ICMR’ National Institute of Virology to develop the vaccine. In December 2020, the company filed an application for regulatory approval of the COVAXIN without showing any data that the vaccine is effective in preventing the virus. And, in January 2021, the Drugs Controller General of India approved the vaccine in a hastened way although no data was available of its phase 3 trials which led to a lot of criticism.
Recently, in a report published by Anvisa, a Brazilian drug regulator pointed out the flaws in the manufacturing of the vaccine. It said that the company didn’t take measures to check if the virus was completely killed. Now, since the company has used inactivated SARS-COV-2 virus for developing its vaccine, a question arises that the vaccine might itself cause the disease. Consequently, Brazil has declined to accept 20 million doses of the vaccine from Bharat Biotech.
However, it also casts bad light on the fact that the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) has licensed COVAXIN for use in India without highlighting those problems.
Revenue and Profits
Most of the company’s revenue comes from the sales of Typhoid and Rotavirus vaccines due to relatively less competition in the market. As per the Investment Information and Credit Rating Agency, the company earned around 1080 crore in FY 2020 and its net profit rose by 2000 percent to Rs 298 crore.
The company’s profit and revenue is likely to increase in the near future due to the sale of COVID vaccine. According to some estimates, the company’s profit might add up to 75,750 crores, from the sales of COVAXIN to the Indian States and individuals.
Environmental measures taken
The company uses microbial cultures like recombinant yeast and E.coli, and raw materials like sucrose, peptone, Tris Buffer, EDTA and sodium chloride to ensure environmental sustainability.
In manufacturing, it treats the waste chemicals through its treatment plan (120 KLD capacity) before releasing them and utilizes HEPA filters to prevent the accidental release of genetically modified organisms.
Lastly, the waste is treated and disposed of with the help of organizations authorized by the Pollution Control Board. It, therefore, contributes significantly to sustainable development.
Vaccine making is a highly competitive business and Indian companies often face a stiff competition from Chinese companies who are indulged in creating large capacities and driving down prices. With negligent debt and healthy cash flows the company is developing vaccines for a number of diseases such as Zika, Chikungunya, Cholera, Malaria and the most significant of all being COVID-19.
The Bharat Biotech is among a few companies in the world building an impressive end-end capability for vaccine development. It would be interesting to see how the company rolls in the future!
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