VACCINES HAVE BEEN a ray of hope in a world ravaged by Covid-19. While India has started mass production of two vaccines—Covishield by Serum Institute of India and Covaxin by Bharat Biotech—a third one, ZyCoV-D by Zydus Cadila, is undergoing trials. Pankaj Patel, chairman of Zydus Group, says the DNA plasmid platform vaccine is expected to hit the market by May-June. Excerpts from an interview:

When did Zydus decide to make a Covid-19 vaccine?

Somewhere in February 2020, we decided to develop a Covid vaccine. We realised that there could be a pandemic. We had experience making a vaccine for H1N1.

When is ZyCoV-D expected in the market?

Currently, we are undergoing phase III study. We have to complete the dosing and then wait for 150 symptomatic Covid patients; then we unlock and come out with efficacy data. Our guesstimate is that we should be completing the trial in May. ZyCoV-D will be in the market between May and June.

Are you not going in for emergency use approval?

In any case, approval will happen for emergency use. As a serious pharmaceutical company, we will have to complete the trial and then go for emergency use.

Will the vaccine be exported?

Yes, if the government allows. We do have a lot of requests from various countries. We would like to supply them, depending upon the government’s view at that time. Currently, it is allowing export. So, we will be exporting.

What will be the price of the vaccine?

It will not cost more than the current vaccines.

Has the company lost the advantage of being the first mover?

I do not think there is a race here. We need good science and a good product for the people of India; it should be safe and efficacious at a reasonable price.

Why are there so many concerns about the side effects of Covid vaccines?

It is a communication issue. Many people have been reading articles, news reports. There is a lot of unsubstantiated and false data floating around. It creates apprehensions. Fears can be allayed through education. We did not find any side effects in our phase II trials.

How many people were covered under phase I and phase II trials?

One thousand.

How will ZyCoV-D be different from the two vaccines approved in India?

Ours is a totally different platform compared with the current vaccines that have been approved in India and abroad. We have a DNA plasmid platform vaccine. This vaccine is given intradermally. It does not go deep inside the body. There is a specific device through which it is administered. It is needle-free, painless administering. People will not suffer side effects that are being seen in other vaccines.

Should Covid-19 vaccination be made compulsory in India?

No, I do not think it will be a great idea to make anything compulsory. It should be voluntary. Increased education will allay the fears of people.

What is the investment that has gone into the manufacturing of ZyCoV-D?

We have put up a manufacturing unit, we have done development and trials. In all, we are estimating (an outlay of) around Rs500 crore. Initially, we will produce 100 million doses and scale up to 250 million doses.

Should people be compensated for the side effects of vaccines?

Vaccines always have some side effects, minor or major. The regulator and the governments in order to simply support the vaccination have taken the responsibility for compensation through a kind of a normative method and the companies are required to support. That is a global practice. In India, we currently do not have any practice.

How did the idea of Zydus Hospital come up?

We often have to go to hospitals and I observed that many a time people face certain issues (on the management side). Being from the field of management, I wanted to minimise this. The idea was to give an acceptable level of service to patients and doctors. Hence, the hospitals.

The first one came up in Anand (my hometown), and the second one in Ahmedabad. The third one will be in collaboration with Maruti Udyog in Bechraji, near Ahmedabad. It is a joint CSR project for both companies. The fourth one will be commissioned in Vadodara in 2022.



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