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Bharat Biotech’s ultimate dream run: Hyderabad start-up to pharma giant, how this desi company made global impact

Soon after the company had been chosen by the DBT for the Rotavirus vaccine, the company shipped out the first batch of vaccine it had developed for Hepatitis B in the year 1999. (Credit: ANI)

With the government regulator allowing the emergency use of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech, the Hyderabad-based company has emerged among the handful of pharma companies in the world to have come out successful in developing the vaccine for Coronavirus. The company which started off as a start-up in the year 1996 has had notable successes in its name including the development of the Rotavirus vaccine and Hepatitis B vaccine at affordable price, the Indian Express reported. In the year 1999, the Centre had invited pharma companies to become partners in the development of a Rotavirus vaccine and the only company that showed interest was three-year-old start-up Bharat Biotech. While other pharma companies were wary of venturing into the project due to the withdrawal of the sole Rotavirus vaccine produced by an American company after the recipients of the vaccine reported severe side-effects, Bharat Biotech took the leap forward.

As the Indian government was very keen on developing an indigenous Rotavirus vaccine that could reduce a large number of deaths due to the disease, relying on a three-year-old company for the project was a tough call to make. After discussion at the highest level, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) accepted the Bharat Biotech proposal and began the work on the project that turned out to be one of the country’s biggest successes of the Biotechnology sector in the country. The fruit of the enduring labour that continued for over 15 years materialised in the year 2014 when the Rotavirus vaccine developed by the company was licensed. True to its stated commitment, Bharat Biotech developed the vaccine at an affordable price of a dollar per dose which was 200 times cheaper than the two other vaccines available in the world which cost $200 per dose.

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Gagandeep Kang, who is a virologist and Professor of Microbiology at Christian Medical College, Vellore, told the Indian Express that the risk taken by Krishna Ella (promoter of Bharat Biotech) had paid off especially after a large majority of the scientific community had taken the Rotavirus field to be dead after the withdrawal of the American vaccine. Kang, however, did not forget to mention the highly supportive role played by the Department of Biotechnology in the project as a large part of the research undertaken during the project was undertaken in the United States with the active involvement of US institutions.

Soon after the company had been chosen by the DBT for the Rotavirus vaccine, the company shipped out the first batch of vaccine it had developed for Hepatitis B in the year 1999. At that time, the company did not even have its own office and operated out of a rented three-storeyed building in Jubilee Hills area of Hyderabad. A former employee of the company told the Indian Express that the sense of jubilation and contentment among the whole staff led by Ella was evident from the fact that Ella himself saw off the truck that collected the first shipment.

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