A health worker administers a COVID-19 vaccine dose to a beneficiary in a Modi mask, September 17, 2021. Photo: PTI
The Government of India has thus far spent nearly Rs 171 crore to develop COVID-19 vaccines in the country, through its ‘Mission COVID Suraksha’.
In April 2021, the government had allocated Rs 900 crore to develop COVID-19 vaccines, “to be implemented” by the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), a public-sector undertaking under the Department of Biotechnology (DBT).
The department has thus far transferred Rs 680 crore to BIRAC. It sent Rs 180 crore on January 12, 2021, and Rs 500 crore on September 21, 2021.
Separately, the Indian Council of Medical Research has spent Rs 55 crore “for development and clinical trials of Covaxin, Covishield and Covovax COVID-19 vaccines.”
These vaccines are made by Bharat Biotech, Serum Institute of India (licensed from AstraZeneca) and Novovax, respectively.
These numbers and the statement were received in reply to applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act that Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd.) filed in December 2021, with the DBT. The Wire Science has seen copies of these documents.
On December 30, the central public information officer (CPIO) of the DBT didn’t provide a satisfactory reply to Batra’s query. In response, Batra first his first appeal on January 6. Then on January 13, the CPIO replied with the requisite information.
According to the CPIO, BIRAC transferred a sum of Rs 78.96 lakh to the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, Faridabad, in two tranches: Rs 31.66 lakh on December 23, 2020, and Rs 47.30 lakh on August 9, 2021.
The corresponding head of this expense is specified as “COVID-19 Consortium”.
The CPIO also wrote that BIRAC has thus far paid five vaccine-developers a total of Rs 115.2 crore, on the following dates:
- April 3, 2021 – Biological E, Rs 22.50 crore
- April 30, 2021 – Gennova Biopharmaceuticals, Rs 22.50 crore
- June 3, 2021 – Bharat Biotech, Rs 23.73 crore
- June 22, 2021 – Cadila Healthcare, Rs 40 crore
- July 22, 2021 – Genique Lifesciences, Rs 6.47 crore
As The Wire Science has reported, “Corbevax was originally developed at the Texas Children’s Hospital’s Centre for Vaccine Development in Houston, and is being manufactured under licence by Hyderabad-based Biologicals E.”
India’s Drug Controller General has approved Corbevax for emergency-use in India, but it is still awaiting WHO approval.
Gennova Biopharmaceuticals is currently developing a COVID-19 vaccine specific to the omicron variant, and which Reuters reported could be ready in “a month or two”.
Bharat Biotech, with help from the Indian Council of Medical Research, including the National Institute of Virology, developed Covaxin. Since its emergency-use approval in January 2021, approximately 12% of COVID-19 vaccine recipients in India have received it. Covaxin has also been approved for young adults aged 15-18 years, and Bharat Biotech has also reportedly tested it to be a booster dose.
As mentioned earlier, Bharat Biotech also received some financial support from the Indian Council of Medical Research for Covaxin’s clinical trials. But the RTI reply doesn’t break the expenditure down by vaccine.
Cadila Healthcare, presumably as Zydus Cadila, developed a DNA plasmid vaccine called ZyCoV-D that the regulator approved in August 2021. The company was contracted to supply 10 million doses of ZyCoV-D to the government by the end of 2021, at Rs 265 per dose.
During India’s second COVID-19 outbreak, patients suffered debilitating side-effects after they received batches of remdesivir manufactured by Zydus Cadila.
Genique Lifesciences is a sister company of Premas Biotech, a Gurgaon-based company that has been developing an oral vaccine against COVID-19. In July 2021, with funding from BIRAC for Genique, Premas was reportedly planning to begin its phase 1 trial soon. A search on the Clinical Trial Registry of India didn’t reveal any trials, however.
Vaccine development is separate from vaccine distribution and delivery. For the latter, Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman allocated Rs 35,000 crore in the last budget.
Note: This article was updated at 5:49 pm on January 19, 2021, to add that the ICMR had spent Rs 55 crore on the clinical trials of three vaccines.