Prince of Vaccines: Adar Poonawalla’s Lucrative Empire in India – The Third

In April 2015, in a world still free from Covid-19, Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, warned in a TED talk that the world was not prepared for a pandemic. The video received more than 40 million views. One of them was from Adar Poonawalla, heir to the Serum Institute of India (SII). The epidemiological threat echoed in his head until more than five years later he became the world’s largest producer of coronavirus vaccines, with monthly shipments exceeding 80 million doses and expected to rise to 2 billion by the end of 2021.

Amid the pressure to be in the middle of the war of the countries to acquire vaccines to immunize the population and stop the advance of the virus, Adar moved his office to one of his private planes, an Airbus A320, which he called his own “AirForce One”, referring to the one used by the US President. The 40-year-old businessman lives in India and on a busy day, as they have been in recent months, gets on his plane after dinner, sleeps in one of the rooms and in the morning he wakes up in Europe to attend meetings and flies back during the same night.

He is the only child of Cyrus and Villoo Poonawalla, considered the sixth richest family in India, with an estimated fortune of US $ 15 billion. Although it was not always like that.

A medical worker inoculates a policeman with a dose of the coronavirus vaccine at a civil hospital in India. Photo: AFP

According to Bloomberg, the history of the lineage dates back to the 19th century, when a migrant settled in the city of Pune and started a construction business that led to so much land that locals dubbed him Poonawalla, “the man from Pune.” Adar’s grandfather and Cyrus father, Soli, started a racehorse farm. With the successful business underway, the Poonawalla noted that the recalled animals were being sold to the Haffkine State Medical Institute to make equine serum, an antidote for snakebites, and the antitoxin against tetanus, which is generated when small amounts are injected into horses. of poison or bacteria to develop antibodies, which is then collected and refined for human treatment. Medicines that until then the government of India did not produce. Thus, Cyrus was dubbed the “king” of the serum.

In a stroke of luck and without scientific experience, the Poonawalla vaccine empire was born in 1966. Before the pandemic, IBS produced 1.5 billion doses of immunizers against various diseases, such as poliomyelitis, diphtheria, hepatitis B, meningitis, whooping cough and MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), and with the United Nations license they export 170 countries. According to the official site of the SII, to date the company has vaccinated 65% of the world’s children with one or more of its products in more than 100 countries. This made them part of the exclusive handful of key international conglomerates to tackle Covid-19.

“The only lesson we learned in this pandemic is how poorly prepared we were in the manufacture of vaccines, in our health, detection and testing systems. I’m willing to bet anything that the next pandemic will be much worse than this, “Adar said in a recent interview.

Before the March 11, 2020 WHO classified Covid-19 as a pandemic, Adar, who in 2011 displaced his father from the position and became executive director of the SII, a company that operates “24×7 with more than four thousand workers ”, Called an emergency meeting to announce an investment of US $ 800 million. In April, when the University of Oxford and the pharmaceutical AstraZeneca were working against the clock to obtain a vaccine, Adar Poonawalla made a call “of less than five minutes” to the CEO of AstraZeneca, Pascal Soriot, and they agreed to the manufacture of one billion doses in one year.

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A medical worker takes oximeter readings from a man before being inoculated with the coronavirus vaccine in india. Photo: AFP

A month later, the necessary supplies arrived in India to kick-start. The SII ordered that three of its factories leave their normal tasks and dedicate themselves to producing the drug against the coronavirus under the license of AstraZeneca, in machinery that allows “filling 500 glass pipettes per minute and steel bioreactors almost two stories high. that can produce more than 10 million injections per month ”. For this reason, when the vaccine received the green light from the UK Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency last December, Adar’s company had already delivered 40 million doses to begin immunizing the British population.

Adar’s early years were spent in the family home in Pune, a city of more than 3.1 million people, but at age 10 he moved to St. Edmund’s boarding school in Canterbury, one of the most expensive schools in the UK. , with an enrollment of more than US $ 40 thousand. At age 21, after studying at the University of Westminster, he returned to India to focus on the family business. According to Vanity Fair magazine, in 2006 Adar married Natasha, an Indian businesswoman and socialite, with whom he has two children: Cyrus and Darius. The family announced that since the pandemic they have been isolated in their country house surrounded by 76 thousand hectares. Covid-19 prevented one of his children from following the tradition and attending a British boarding school. Instead, the minors receive home schooling away from masks and social distancing because the mansion staff must comply with periodic PCR examinations.

In 2010 his mother died and in her memory his only son created the Villoo Poonawalla Foundation, which today comprises six schools, a hospital, 25 water plants, 250 trucks and machinery that collect and process waste in Pune.

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People wait in an observation room after being inoculated with the coronavirus vaccine at a state hospital: Photo: AFP

Extravagance is included in the Poonawalla gene. According to the Pune Mirror newspaper, the heir has a collection of 35 “rare” vehicles, which includes Ferrari, Bentley, Rolls Royce and Mercedes Benz models. It is unknown how much Adar would have paid to modify the Mercedes S350, which he painted black and added wings and an extended trunk to recreate the Batmobile used in the movies, and which was a gift for his first-born son.

Adar Poonawalla’s official site notes that his Mumbai weekend home is decorated with paintings by Picasso, Dali, Rembrandt, Renoir, Van Gogh, Monet and Rubens, all bought at auctions. The real estate sector is one of the family passions. In 2015, they added to their real estate list the former United States Embassy in India, Lincoln House, located in Bombay, for which they disbursed US $ 113 million, being the most expensive house sold in the country’s history.

“Dear countries and governments, as you await supplies from Covishield, I humbly ask you to be patient, SII has been instructed to prioritize the enormous needs of India. We are doing our best, ”Adar Poonawalla wrote on his Twitter account on February 20, after the Narendra Modi government banned the export of vaccines for two to three months.

According to Our World in data, India has administered 65.12 million doses. In other words, only 4% of its population of 1.36 billion have received at least one inoculation.

Still without controlling Covid-19 and with the threat of new zoonotic viruses, the IBS plans to launch in the next two years a new drug against dengue and a vaccine against malaria, while they are waiting for the completion of the expansion of the Center of Sciences of the Life, that will allow only in that place to produce one billion doses of vaccines annually.

For now, the prince of vaccines confirmed that the principle of the company with more than 50 years of experience will continue in force: “They will not ask for loans or be listed on the Stock Exchange and that growth will only take place through internal accumulations.”

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Prince of Vaccines: Adar Poonawalla’s Lucrative Empire in India – The Third

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