PUNE (Reuters) – If the world is to gain access to a vaccine for COVID-19, there’s a good chance it will pass through the doors of Serum Institute of India.
Serum Institute, the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines by volume, is working on several candidates for the novel coronavirus – including potentially mass-producing the AstraZeneca/Oxford university one that has garnered global headlines – as well as developing its own.
The efforts are partly being shepherded by Umesh Shaligram, the head of research and development. His employer is a private company but every day, shortly before midnight, he receives a WhatsApp message from the government asking for updates, and about any new hurdles he faces.
The message is usually from K. VijayRaghavan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s top scientific adviser – an indication of the critical, and even strategically important, nature of the race to develop the vaccines the whole world is waiting for.
Shaligram promptly responds with a progress report and details any bottlenecks.
“Any delays, you just tell them,” said Shaligram, adding the government has been doing everything it can to fast-track clearances, and resolve import delays and other issues.
“We have begun to see approvals come through in days, even on a Sunday night, for trials and things like that,” he said, noting some of these processes typically took 4 to 6 months.
While most of the attention regarding vaccines typically goes to the pharmaceutical developer, India quietly plays a key role in manufacturing 60%-70% of all vaccines sold globally with the Serum Institute playing a lead role, said the company’s Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla.
At the company’s sprawling, 150-acre campus in the western Indian city of Pune, Shaligram and his team are working flat-out. Dozens of buses ferry in hundreds of workers each day to the grounds, which are buzzing with activity even as the city around it remains largely under lockdown.
The push comes as the number of cases of COVID-19, both globally and domestically, continue to surge and world leaders look to vaccines as the only real way to restart their stalled economies, even though none have yet been proven to be effective against the coronavirus.
Poonawalla, whose family owns he vaccine maker, said scientists, drugmakers and manufacturers were collaborating at an unparalleled scale to spur development and availability.
“We are all in a race to battle the disease, there is no one-upmanship here,” he told Reuters, sitting in his office beside his family’s 74-year-old stud farm.
Serum, founded in 1966 by Adar’s father Cyrus Poonawalla, has partnered with U.S. biotech firm Codagenix, its U.S. rival Novavax (NVAX.O) and Austria’s Themis to potentially manufacture three COVID-19 vaccine candidates that are still in development.
Another candidate in the works is the experimental vaccine developed by a team at the University of Oxford and now licensed to drugmaker AstraZeneca (AZN.L), with whom Serum are in talks to mass produce the vaccine, which is now in the clinical trial stage.
The United States has secured almost a third of the first 1 billion doses planned for the potential vaccine, initially known as ChAdOx1 and now as AZD1222, by pledging up to $1.2 billion.
Poonawalla aims to initially produce 4-5 million doses a month, beginning from June, and then gradually ramp up to 350-400 million doses a year.
“Hopefully we will build a stock of a few million doses to give to our country and other high-risk areas across the globe come October-November when the trials ought to be concluded,” the 39-year-old said, while giving Reuters rare access to tour his facilities.
He added he had been given to understand by the development team that the trials had an 80% chance of success, given that the vaccine is based on a tried-and-tested platform.
Based on the information currently available, Poonawalla also said he anticipated AZD1222 would be a single-dose vaccine and not require a booster dose.
He sees AZD1222 potentially priced at about 1,000 rupees ($13) per dose in India, but expects it will be procured and distributed by governments without charge.
Serum is also working on developing its own in-house vaccine options to tackle the disease, Poonawalla said.
Vials, tubes, chemicals
Even if a vaccine does succeed, a treatment to fight COVID-19 would still be required, said Poonawalla, noting some people do not get the desired immune response, even if vaccinated.
“You may get mild symptoms, you may get severe symptoms. It depends on your system, but there is a chance,” he added. “Not all vaccines are fully effective.”
The Serum Institute produces more than 1.5 billion doses of vaccines every year, for everything from polio to measles.
Poonawalla says that gave the company an edge in securing supplies of vials and high-quality chemicals required to make a vaccine in bulk once all approvals are in place.
“We have partnered with many of our suppliers to have one to two-year inventories of glass vials and tubing glass stocked in advance, so luckily for us that won’t be an issue.”
Any successful vaccine is however bound to be in short supply at first, he stressed.
India recorded more than 6,000 new cases of the coronavirus on Friday, bringing its total to over 118,000 cases with more than 3,500 deaths, even as it gradually begins to ease its nearly two-month long nationwide lockdown.
There have been more than 5 million infections and over 330,000 deaths reported worldwide.
The Indian government stands ready to cover the costs of trials of any vaccine in the country, said Poonawalla, adding that the government had also expressed interest in placing advance orders for a potential vaccine.
“We’ve reached out and they have been very positive,” he added. “But we’ve said hold on … as we don’t want to take government money until we are very confident we can deliver.”
Unlocking value in the ‘hype’
Serum, one of the few companies ramping up hiring during the health crisis, is also designing a separate facility to make vaccines for pandemic-level diseases that could handle 90% of the current vaccine candidates being developed, beyond just the COVID-19 ones.
That facility, which will be ready in the next two to three years, would be able to potentially churn out 700-800 million doses a year, according to Poonawalla.
The CEO said he considered taking the company public some years ago to fund some large acquisitions, but changed course when the deals fell through.
Now he’s considering a different approach. He is exploring creating a holding entity that will host the company’s pandemic-level technologies, including manufacturing rights, intellectual property and the sale of all of Serum’s COVID-19-related candidates, and selling a minority stake in the venture.
“That will unlock value in the main hype,” he said.
Poonawalla said he had engaged bankers to test the waters on this, but stressed he would only consider selling a stake to ethical, long-term funds or sovereign funds that do not expect huge returns and want to “make a difference to the world”.
“After getting them onboard, I don’t want to be in a situation where I have to charge high prices to give them returns.”
Reporting and photo: Reuters
Emirates undertakes largest known fleet retrofit project
Emirates has kick-started its plans to upgrade the entire interior cabins of 120 Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 aircraft – two of the largest commercial aircraft types in service today.
This ambitious project, representing a multi-billion dollar investment to ensure Emirates’ customers “fly better” for the coming years, officially commences in November and is managed entirely by Emirates’ Engineering team.
The target is to completely retrofit four Emirates aircraft from start to finish every month, continuously for over 2 years. Once the 67 earmarked A380s are refreshed and back in service, 53 777s will undergo their facelift. This will see nearly 4,000 brand new Premium Economy seats installed, 728 First Class suites refurbished and over 5,000 Business Class seats upgraded to a new style and design when the project is complete in April 2025.
In addition, carpets and stairs will be upgraded, and cabin interior panels refreshed with new tones and design motifs including the iconic ghaf trees which are native to the UAE.
No other airline has handled a retrofit of this magnitude in-house, and there’s no blueprint for such an undertaking. Therefore Emirates Engineering teams have been planning and testing extensively, to establish and streamline processes, and identify and address any possible snags.
Trials began on an A380 in July, where experienced engineers literally took each cabin apart piece-by-piece and logged every step. From removing seats and panelling to bolts and screws, every action was tested, timed and mapped out. Potential impediments to completing the installation of Emirates’ new Premium Economy Class or the retrofit of the remaining three cabins in just 16 days were flagged and documented for expert teams to review and address.
As part of the programme, new purpose-built workshops will be set up at Emirates Engineering to repaint, re-trim and re-upholster Business and Economy Class seats with new covers and cushioning. First Class suites will be carefully disassembled and sent to a specialised company to replace the leather, arm rests and other materials.
From the trials, Engineers discovered several unexpected solutions for instance: that existing food catering trucks could be easily repurposed to move parts destined for refurbishment from the aircraft to the workshop for their refresh, as these vehicles had doors of the right width and offer sufficient space.
Until the retrofit programme starts in earnest in November, a cross-disciplinary team has been assembled to regularly review the planning process, address any issues, and track updates on various aspects of the project such as procurement, staffing, and training.
Emirates’ new Premium Economy cabin class, which offers luxurious seats, more legroom, and a service to rival many airlines’ business offering, is currently available to Emirates customers travelling on popular A380 routes to London, Paris, Sydney. More customers will be able to experience the airline’s new Premium Economy cabins starting from year end, as the retrofit programme picks up momentum.
Eleanor helps over 30 Maldives hotels elevate guest services
Eleanor has been named as one of the top 10 concierge software providers globally.
Based on accurate, timely reviews from real users, the HotelTechAwards rank the world’s best hotel software firms and products and it also provides hoteliers direct access to a growing network of hotel technology professionals and decision-makers.
“The guest experience is the cornerstone of our platform. Our unified resort wide solution, Eleanor, has been built for resorts off the back of many years working in the industry and addresses the needs of both Sales and Marketing departments and perhaps just as importantly, the operational requirements of the team on the ground at the property. The days of resorts working with disjointed systems are now behind us,” says Darren Caple, co-founder and CEO.
“We are on a mission to make the guest’s resort experience as easy and as frictionless as possible. Whereas traditional providers in the market have come at this purely from a guest communication perspective, our background in resorts has allowed us to combine this basic requirement with the streamlining of operational processes. The result is truly a resort wide solution that removes the need for countless different systems to be deployed.
Eleanor allows resorts to deliver consistent, superior service levels to guests across all stages of their journey with contactless features helping to alleviate sensitive touch-points in the post pandemic period. More than 30 properties in the Maldives use our Eleanor platform to help butlers and guest services elevate the guest experience. These properties are seeing an increase in incremental revenue by over 30% and operational efficiencies of 600+ man hours per month. We are also beginning to roll out the platform in some Caribbean properties!”
Eleanor is making waves in the hospitality industry by pushing the conventional limits of what a resort guest app can achieve through its unique ability to facilitate direct bookings for services and activities. The traditional ‘request to book’ feature that is common amongst almost all other hotel apps is removed by a power booking and operational platform sitting at the heart of the solution that covers all the resorts’ departments. It’s this module which realises enormous operational benefits and insights for the resort.
“We, at Eleanor, are humbled and honoured that our clients have provided such positive reviews. Feedback from our clients, partners and hoteliers are incredibly valuable for us and we will continue to improve our offering and services”, said Caple.
To celebrate this success, Eleanor is currently offering resorts a free one month trial, together with free setup and training and discounted monthly fees.
Eleanor, founded in 2018 and has its headquarters in the United Kingdom. Created from over 15 years of hands-on expertise, Eleanor allows resorts to deliver consistent, superior service levels to its guests across all stages of their journey with contactless features helping to alleviate sensitive touch-points in the post pandemic period. Eleanor also helps to unlock operational efficiencies and boost incremental revenue and guest loyalty.
Hotel Tech Report’s Best Concierge Software 2022 Runner Up, reviewed as a preferred and reliable hotel software product by the global hotelier community.
For more information, visit www.eleanorapp.com.
Emirates’ recruiters scour the world for cabin crew talent with 30 city stops
Emirates, the world’s most global airline, is seeking talented people with a passion for service to join its award-winning cabin crew team.
As air travel returns with a vengeance, the airline’s recruiters are busy meeting and hiring candidates in 30 cities from now until the end of June. In this latest drive, Emirates’ teams will travel from Australia to the UK, and dozens of European cities in between, as well as Cairo, Algiers, Tunis and Bahrain.
Abdulaziz Al Ali, Emirates Group’s Executive Vice President for Human Resources said: “There’s no more exciting airline than Emirates for anyone interested in a flying career, and we’ve received tremendous interest since we began our recruitment drive for cabin crew in November.”
“While parts of the application process are done online, we always make the effort to meet our candidates in person whenever we can, and that is why our Talent Acquisition team is doing a whirlwind 30-city tour over the next 6 weeks to assess prospective candidates.”
Emirates’ truly global cabin crew team represent 160 nationalities, reflecting its customer mix and international operations in over 130 cities on six continents.
All Emirates crew are based in the exciting cosmopolitan city of Dubai, with company-provided accommodation, tax-free salary and more benefits.
Interested candidates can read more about the Emirates cabin crew role, and apply online at: https://www.emiratesgroupcareers.com/cabin-crew/
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