Biocon Biologics (BBL) and Serum Institute Life Sciences (SILS) have entered an alliance to work together on developing and commercialising vaccines, biological drugs, and antibody therapies together. BBL will sell a 15 per cent stake to SILS at a post-money valuation of $4.9 billion for access to 100 million annual doses of vaccines, including Covid-19 jabs, for 15 years.
In addition to vaccines, the alliance will develop antibodies targeting several infectious diseases such as Dengue, HIV, etc. The two companies will enter Service Level Agreements (SLAs) for manufacturing and distribution of the vaccines and antibodies. Work on the messenger RNA (mRNA) platform to develop future therapies and vaccines are also on the anvil.
SILS is the subsidiary of Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine maker, which is making the AstraZeneca-Oxford Covid-19 vaccine, Novavax’s Covid-19 jab among others. BBL is a Biocon subsidiary.
Speaking to the media, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Executive Chairperson, Biocon & Biocon Biologics and Adar Poonawalla, CEO of SII said that the scope of the alliance is way beyond the initial 100 mn annual doses.
“We have diverted much of our capacities towards manufacturing Covid-19 vaccines. In 2020, we had to take a very conscious and difficult call to temporarily put off our plans for our monoclonal antibodies play. Through this partnership we can maintain our ambitions in the biologics space as well,” Poonawalla said.
Shaw agreed. She felt this partnership, which gives them access to SII’s vaccine portfolio, including Covid-19 vaccines for global markets, will be an additional growth driver for BBL. “Further, Biocon’s research and manufacturing infrastructure will be leveraged by the partnership for various opportunities in the infectious disease space,” she added.
Biocon already has an approved biosimilars portfolio in the US and Europe, and it can now expand its focus from non-communicable diseases to infectious diseases. Biocon expects to establish an R&D division for vaccines and biologics for communicable diseases to support the strategic alliance.
An important area of collaboration for the two partners is the mRNA platform. As Poonawalla put it, “We are building a facility to handle a few hundred million doses, if not a billion doses of mRNA technology products. This will take about two years to build and this allows BBL to do research and get the product ready, which we can eventually manufacture.”
He added, "At the moment, we have seen that the mRNA technologies may have some limitations on long-term efficacy, then once that is established, the cold chain requirements need to be improved. For example, we are discussing that if we do embark on an mRNA candidate it should be stable at plus 2-8 degrees, not minus 70 degrees Celsius,” Poonawalla said.
Leveraging their combined strength, the partners also wish to have better control over their raw material supplies. Poonawalla said vaccine and biologics production fluctuates at times with fluctuations in the global supply chain. “We plan to invest in this space to strengthen our position, and become self reliant. Most probably, we would want to do (source) this in India itself,” he added.
The two companies would discuss and explore common items of interest and raw materials. Once they have shortlisted four or five major areas like resins, cell media, bio-reactor bags etc, they can either go for a focused strategy on procurement. This could be either through any acquisition, or both can place long term contracts with suppliers so that they prioritise supplies to them.
Moreover, as Shaw highlighted, they wish to make affordable vaccines and biologics to cater to the needs of the developing world.