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Cyrus and Adar Poonawalla, India’s Vaccine Giants


How Serum Institute became India’s best bet against Covid-19. Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla established the Serum Institute of Indian in 1966. It is the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines by volume. Speaking to Hello Vizag, Dr. Poonawala said, we have sacrificed our huge profits by keeping the prices very affordable and lowest in the world” Bill Gates, the Philanthropist, once said there are not the biggest in terms of revenue because for almost all of their products they use a very high volume, low price approach, and yet they do that with very high quality.

Before they turned to vaccines, the Poonawallas were into breeding and horse racing. India being a socialist country, I decided to get away from it and do something with the masses. And this suggestion was given to us by one of the doctors that why don’t we go for life-saving drugs? That’s is how Serum Institute was born and conceived, said Dr. Poonawalla


It started by producing anti-venom for snake bites and a tetanus antitoxin before developing Polio vaccines for the developing world. But India’s license raj was hardly an enabler. Dr. Poonaalla said “the challengers were red-tape and delay for permissions from all the government agencies. The major breakthrough came when we got pre-qualified for supplying vaccines to UN agencies.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Serum Institute was producing 1.5 billion vaccine doses annually and exporting them to 140 countries. They said two out of three immunized children in the world used Serum vaccines. In 2012, Bill Gates met with Poonawalla during his India visit. Over time the company has grown and succeeded in taking on big challenges. Bill Gates said, “Serum Institute actually ships far more vaccines to the world than it ships in India. It’s a big supplier to India as well but Africa gets a very high percentage of its vaccines from Serum”.

Over time Cyrus’s son Adar became an integral part of the firm. He oversaw their global expansion in the 2000s before taking over as the CEO in 2011. So When he pandemic hit, some critics, including his father, said he took a financial gamble. He made Serum invest nearly $300 million in the early production of the Covishield vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, a global biopharma company. As the vaccine was clearing mandatory trials, Serum’s gargantuan production line was chugging full speed. Their machines can fill 500 glass vials per minute. By December 2020, Adar said, Serum was producing 50-60 million doses per month. He planned to increase it to 100 million doses per month by January.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Serum’s Pune campus to review their preparedness. We are amazed at what he already knew. He was also very impressed of course, to answer your question, on the new facilities that we have built-in record time, said Cyrus. Stating further he said, in fact, we have added a third facility also that we showed him so that we can handle more than a billion doses a year. Cyrus Poonawalla argued in the past that the Serum Institute never got much recognition in India. Now India has its eyes on Serum as it takes on arguably its biggest challenge yet.

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