June 15, 2024

Pharma Competitors Bharat Biotech and SII Collaborate to Combat Global Polio

Bharat Biotech has collaborated with the Netherlands-based Bilthoven Biologicals B.V, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Serum Institute of India, to strengthen production and ensure supply of oral polio vaccines. This news comes three years after a the two pharma companies engaged in a heated public dispute over the efficacy of their COVID-19 vaccines

Top vaccine makers and rivals Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India (SII), putting aside disagreements, have teamed up to eradicate polio globally.

This news comes three years after a heated public dispute over the efficacy of their COVID-19 vaccinations.

Here’s all we know about the new alliance.

Bharat Biotech and SII join hands

As part of the new alliance, the drug substance for Bharat Biotech of Hyderabad’s oral polio vaccine (OPV), called Biopolio, will come from Pune-based SII’s subsidiary Bilthoven Biologicals BV (BBio), which is based in the Netherlands, according to The Times of India.

The collaboration seeks to increase OPV production and supply security to combat polio and accomplish its global eradication.

Bharat Biotech, a major global manufacturer of OPV, can produce up to 500 million doses annually, sourcing the drug substances from suppliers.

An official announcement on Tuesday revealed that Bharat Biotech and BBio have signed an agreement to “jointly obtain regulatory approvals and licences for commercial OPV manufacturing in the country,” catering to both domestic and international markets, according to PTI.

“This collaboration…exemplifies cooperation between vaccine companies, ensuring a secure supply of oral polio vaccines and fortifies the nation’s mission to eradicate polio,” Bharat Biotech Executive Chairman Krishna Ella said.

He further highlighted the importance of OPVs by saying, “Oral polio vaccines have been an integral part of the government’s universal immunisation programme for several decades, with Bharat Biotech being one of the largest suppliers to immunisation programmes across the world.”

Poonawalla, for his part, reaffirmed his company’s commitment to working with Bharat Biotech to eradicate polio globally. The partnership is “a crucial step towards reducing the impact of this deadly disease on vulnerable populations,” he said.

The history of the rift between two Pharma giants

The two businesses had engaged in a public spat when SII CEO Poonawalla stated in a January 2021 interview that just three COVID vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca-Oxford’s Covishield — are effective, according to TOI.

He remarked on the same day that the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) approved Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s domestically produced Covaxin.

Disturbed by Poonawalla’s remarks that all other vaccines were “safe, just like water,” Bharat Biotech’s Dr Krishna Ella, had retaliated by casting doubt on the efficacy of AstraZeneca-Oxford’s vaccine trials.

After PMO’s intervention, the two companies made up and agreed to work together on the study, manufacturing, and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The two main COVID-19 vaccines that India had depended on to vaccinate its approximately 1.4 billion people were Covishield and Covaxin. Additionally, the vaccines were exported worldwide.

India’s fight to eradicate polio

Polio or Poliomyelitis is an impairment and life-threatening illness caused by the poliovirus. This virus is contagious and can lead to permanent paralysis.

According to UNICEF, India was a polio hotspot in the mid-20th century, with roughly 150,000 cases reported annually. The virus spread in areas lacking adequate sanitary facilities.

In response to the circumstances at the time, India started polio vaccination campaigns in 1978 and joined the international campaign to end the disease, according to a report by CNBC-TV18.

But it wasn’t until 1997 — when the National Polio Surveillance Project was established and eventually took over the public health surveillance system — that the mass vaccination efforts became statistically significant.

To remove social and religious barriers to vaccination and guarantee universal coverage, UNICEF collaborated with the Indian government from the start of the immunisation programme. In 2001, the government further increased its contribution by establishing the Social Mobilisation Network.

A trained group of 7,000 people was deployed to monitor and track the immunisation drive from house to house to accelerate the process. This action was performed in order to locate neighbourhoods that pose significant risks and to overcome resistance.

Since polio was a hyper-endemic illness in the nation until the 1990s, the government of India started the Universal Immunisation Programme, which reached every district in the country, the report said. Launched in 1995, this initiative was known as the “Pulse Polio” campaign.

Up until this moment, though, mothers’ reluctance to send their kids to the polio vaccination camps posed a greater threat to the disease’s supply than the shortage of vaccines. The campaign’s famous tagline, “Do Boond Zindagi Ke,” was created to encourage people to get the polio dose.

With the help of this network of dedicated medical professionals, India was able to successfully eradicate the disease.

The last case of polio was reported in West Bengal in January 2011. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared India to be polio-free in March 2014, three years after the last case was reported.

According to The Hindu Business Line report, to keep India free of polio and spare millions of children from potential death and paralysis, nearly 170 million children are immunised on national vaccination days and 77 million on sub-national immunisation days each year.

Polio in the world

Data from the WHO show that in 1988, over thirty years after vaccination campaigns started, the wild poliovirus, still prevalent in 125 countries, was responsible for 350,000 cases.

In that year, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Rotary International, the WHO, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the UN children’s fund UNICEF launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Together with India, the Southeast Asian region was declared polio-free in March 2014.

According to The National News, Nigeria, one of just three nations where the wild poliovirus still existed, achieved another significant milestone in June 2020 when it became polio-free.

The oral polio vaccine contains a weakened strain of the polio virus, which in rare instances mutates, turns dangerous, and spreads among communities with low immunisation rates, leading to the development of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV). This can also induce paralysis in a very tiny percentage of patients, similar to the wild poliovirus.

Even affluent nations like the US, Israel, and the UK have seen instances of cVDPV in recent years.

According to the report, cases of cVDPV are believed to have arisen from the virus being brought in because the US and the UK administer an inactivated polio vaccine and do not utilise the oral polio vaccine.

The novel oral polio vaccine type 2 (nOPV2) was emergency-released in March 2021 and is a step forward to lower the danger of cVDPV due to its genetic stability. In 35 countries, approximately one billion doses of nOPV2 have been administered to date.

Source: https://www.firstpost.com/