India’s Poonawalla family is donating millions to the University of Oxford

Putting their name on it.
Putting their name on it.
Image: Reuters/Francis Mascarenhas
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The Serum Institute of India (SII), headed by billionaire Adar Poonawalla, has pledged £50 million ($66.2 million) to the University of Oxford, with which it has already partnered to produce the world’s most widely used covid-19 vaccine.

It is the “largest ever gift for vaccines research” the university has received, the British institution announced today (Dec. 15). It will be used to create a new building which will be christened The Poonawalla Vaccines Research Building. The Poonawalla space will be built on the same premises as the Oxford University Pandemic Sciences Centre, announced earlier in May.

“The buildings will share infrastructure and support facilities for scientific research and academic teaching and together will form a unique hub that will significantly contribute to global pandemic preparedness and responsiveness,” Oxford said.

SII, founded in 1966 by horse breeder Cyrus Poonawalla—Adar’s father—with a mere $12,000 investment, was the world’s largest vaccine producer even before the pandemic hit, making 1.5 billion jabs annually for polio, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, and a slew of other diseases. But furthering vaccine development has become even more of a lucrative proposition after covid-19. The company is due to rake in $4 billion from covid vaccine deals alone through the end of 2022.

SII’s existing links with vaccine development at Oxford

The Poonawalla building will house researchers from the Jenner Institute—named after the 18th-century physician and smallpox vaccine pioneer Edward Jenner—who were the brains behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine.

SII and the Jenner Institute have already collaborated on the “rapid development and global roll-out of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at scale,” Oxford noted. Covishield, the Indian-made AstraZeneca shot made by SII, accounts for more than 90% of the 1.3 million jabs administered in India so far.

Moreover, SII also has an agreement to manufacture and develop, with large-scale supply, the Jenner Institute’s promising R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine, which is in the final phase of testing.

“The striking success of the collaborative programs on both the malaria and covid-19 vaccines between the Serum Institute of India and Oxford University has highlighted the great potential of partnerships between leading universities and large-scale manufacturers to develop and supply vaccines for very cost-effective deployment at exceptional scale,” said Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute.  “We look forward to a wider range of vaccine activities in the future building on this generous support from the Poonawalla family.”

The SII donation will allow the Jenner institute to double its research staff to 300 and develop more inoculations, including for covid and malaria.