Who Is Adar C. Poonawalla?

Adar Poonawalla's Serum Institute of India is now the world's largest vaccine manufacturer by volume.


Adar C. Poonawalla is the 40-year-old Chief Executive Officer of Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by number of doses produced and sold globally. It ranks as the number one biotechnology company of India with numbers tallying as more than 170 countries across the globe using the vaccine made by Cyrus Poonawalla Group. In 1966 Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla founded Serum Institute of India (SII) with the aim of manufacturing life-saving immuno-biologicals in India.

Serum Institute of India is now the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by number of doses produced and sold globally (more than 1.5 billion doses) which includes Polio vaccine as well as Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Hib, BCG, r-Hepatitis B, Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccines. 

It is estimated that about 65% of the children in the world receive at least one vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute. Vaccines manufactured by the Serum Institute are accredited by the World Health Organization, Geneva and are being used in around 170 countries across the globe in their national immunization programs, saving millions of lives throughout the world.

Adar Poonawalla: The Journey

Adar Poonawalla graduated from the University of Westminster in London and joined the Serum Institute of India in 2001. After exporting its products to 35 countries, Poonawalla focused on its international market and received a new product license and a prequalification from the World Health Organization for supply to the United Nations agencies, including UNICEF and the Pan American Health Organization.

A path-breaking acquisition – In 2011, he became CEO of the Serum Institute and took full control of its daily activities. Serum Institute of India made its first International acquisition by acquiring Bilthoven Biologicals, a bioengineering and pharmaceutical company from The Netherlands Government on 29th June 2012. Adar since taking charge of his family’s vaccine business in 2011 expanded Serum’s global footprint by getting new products licensed and pre-qualified by the World Health Organization for supply to United Nations Agencies including UNICEF and PAHO (Pan American Health Organization).

The takeover of Bilthoven Biological ensurd access to technology and expertise for making the IPV (Injectable Polio Vaccine, Salk), earlier possessed by only 3 other vaccine manufacturers. The acquisition enhances Serum Institute’s offerings in the paediatric vaccine segment and with this Serum Institute hopes to make a significant contribution to the eradication of Polio from the World. The takeover also provides an important manufacturing base in Europe, with access to strategic European Markets.

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It is estimated that about 65% of the children in the world receive at least one vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute.

COVID-19 Vaccine Development – Biggest Challenge of Adar Poonawalla’s Lifetime

Adar decided in mid-2020 that his company would produce 1 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine whenever it was ready. He pledged $250 million (Rs 1.1845 crores) for this goal. This put him on the COVID-19 vaccine map as India’s leading player in the fight to ensure adequate and affordable vaccines.

To develop a vaccine for COVID-19, the Serum Institute, led by Poonawala, partnered with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to form AZD1222 in collaboration with the University of Oxford. The Serum Institute is reportedly providing 100 million doses of vaccine to India and other low- and middle-income countries. It is estimated to be priced at Rs 225 (approximately $3) per dose. 

In December 2020, the Serum Institute of India requested emergency authorization for a vaccine developed with AstraZeneca from the Indian Government, which was approved a month later.

Aakash Sharma
Aakash Sharma
Aakash writes on Startup Ecosystem, Policies, Legal and Regulatory aspects of business planning. An alum of Delhi University, he is assistant editor at Dutch Uncles.

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