Westminster alumnus-led vaccine manufacturer set to play leading role in large scale production of coronavirus vaccine

Westminster alumnus Adar Poonawalla, who is the CEO of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer called Serum Institute of India, is leading the large-scale manufacturing of the University of Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate, which will be distributed if the vaccine proves to be safe and effective in the ongoing clinical trials.

Westminster alumnus Adar Poonawalla at the Serum Institute of India

Poonawalla, who graduated from Westminster in 2002, has led his company to enter into a manufacturing partnership with AstraZeneca to produce 100 million doses of the vaccine for countries around the world. To make sure the vaccine reaches the population the soonest possible, the Serum Institute of India has already started the production of the vaccine, and these doses will be distributed in 58 countries, including India and several African countries, after the clinical trials conclude successfully.

The potential to become one of the largest vaccine manufacturers making COVID-19 vaccines has been made possible by the Westminster alumnus who have been building significant excess capacity ahead of the demand since he has taken over as CEO in 2011. Poonawalla said: “This capacity is coming in useful now when there is a global shortage of facilities to manufacture the vaccines. This is the key reason why the Serum Institute is poised and is able to make all the different partnerships that we have. I have five different COVID-19 vaccines in the pipeline with partners in the US and in India.”

Poonawalla graduated from Westminster’s Business Studies – Services BA Honours course in 2002. He said: “My memories at Westminster are of a nice learning environment and culture which taught me team building and interacting with peers, overall a great learning experience, for which I am always happy and grateful.”

He added: “I always had a passion from the early days for Science and Technology. My time as a student at Westminster taught me how to work in a group and do group related projects, and I enjoyed interactions with my fellow students there.”

Upon graduation he joined the Serum Institute of India, led by his father Dr Cyrus Poonawalla at the time, and he became the CEO of the company in 2011. He has successfully extended the market reach of the company from 30 to 165 countries, and this achievement resulted in tripling the Serum Institute of India’s turnover and capacity over the last 15 years, to be able to produce 1.5 billion doses of vaccines annually.

As CEO, Poonawalla has embarked on a journey of making a number of new vaccines including for Pneumonia, Rotavirus, HPV (for cervical cancer in women) and the company is collaborating with the University of Oxford to make the world’s best Malaria vaccine which is under Phase-II trials in Africa, and which is also expected to bring about major global public health benefits.

Poonawalla also spends a large portion of his time on The Villoo Poonawalla Foundation which he set up after his mother passed away in 2010. The Foundation has founded schools and hospitals, and it has 250 trucks and machines cleaning up, processing the waste and providing clean drinking water for his home city Pune. He has also started multiple new businesses, such as Poonawalla Finance which is a finance company giving loans to small businesses and individuals, and h2e Power Systems which is a company producing fuel cells that is a form of clean energy converting hydrogen into electricity and vice versa. However, Poonawalla’s primary passion remains vaccines and public health which is where he focuses the majority of his time.

Professor Alexandra Hughes, Deputy Vice–Chancellor for Global Engagement and Employability at the University of Westminster, said: “We are immensely proud that our alumnus Adar Poonawalla is at the forefront of the development of a potential COVID-19 vaccine. Westminster graduates around the world make a difference to society in all sorts of ways. Poonawalla’s work in public health illustrates just how vital that difference is. We are delighted that his learning at Westminster helped set him on his path to business success and global impact.”

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