June 12, 2021

The CV of Adar Poonawalla, the “Indian prince of vaccines”

Electric blue suit, slicked back haircut and magnetic gaze, Adar Poonawalla looks like a man who has conquered the whole world. If the forty-something is used to tread the red carpets, it is inside a laboratory that he sparks the most. As the health crisis continues to befall the world, the CEO of the Serum Institute of India (SII) has flooded the planet with his vaccines. His sprawling company makes nearly half the doses of AstraZeneca serum, according to the British daily The Guardian. Back on the journey of an atypical man who became the baron of bottles.

He did not come from a modest family and his training was of good quality. Young Adar Poonawalla studied at St Edmund’s School in Canterbury, British Kent. Price for one year: 30,000 pounds per year. He then continued his studies on the benches of the University of Westminster. Apart from his university education, he was influenced by an important man who will show him the path to follow: his father Cyrus. While a horse breeder, the latter founded SII in 1966 on the fringes of his 81 hectare barn. In 2011, his son joined him to take his classes at the Serum Institute of India, which had become a heavyweight in the pharmaceutical industry. The future prince of vaccines has just graduated from college.

In 2011, he took his father’s place and became CEO of the company. Already at the time, he became the captain of an impressive ship: the Serum Institute of India is the world’s largest producer of vaccines. Long before the onset of the health crisis, the company produced more than 1.5 billion doses per year. They manufacture serums against polio, diphtheria and tetanus. According to its communications service, 65% of children on the planet have received at least one vaccine produced by the company.

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From the onset of the health crisis, the young CEO was able to be responsive when certain political leaders procrastinated on the measures to be taken. The Serum Institute took significant risks. In June, the group drew up an agreement with the British laboratory AstraZeneca to manufacture hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford. However, at that time, clinical studies are only in phase 2 and its effectiveness evaluated at 70%. The SII is investing $ 250 million. A cheeky bet that pays off today.

  • His personal skills

But he does not throw himself into the void without a safety net. Ada Poonawalla also has flair. It was he who convinced his father to massively produce vaccines. An idea that comes to him after watching a conference by Bill Gates in 2015, in which the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft warned that the world was not prepared for a new viral pandemic.

“I have wanted to be ready for a pandemic level event ever since I heard Bill Gates in a speech where he made it clear that we should be more worried and prepared for such situations,” Poonawalla told the Hindustan Times. It was at this point that he doubled the production facilities of the company and began to specialize in the mass production of low-cost vaccines for developing countries. Today, the SII houses some 50 factories spread over 40 hectares.

To put it simply, Adar Poonawalla has forged links with the entire planet. Whether political leaders asking him for extra doses or the population thanking him, the jet-setter displays the image of a savior. But its popularity is all the more important in low-income countries.

In February, 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca / Oxford vaccine arrive in Ghana. These are the very first deliveries under the Covax program to help the poorest countries. Of the 2.1 billion doses that must be sold under the Covax program, nearly half (AstraZeneca / Oxford under the name “Covishield” but also Novavax) come from the Indian firm.

However, the address book seems too full and the Indian government has put a stop to vaccine exports in order to reach the goal of 300 million people immunized in its country. Last month, Poonawalla tweeted: “Dear countries and governments, as you wait for supplies from #COVISHIELD, I humbly ask you to be patient.”

Adar Poonawalla, married and father of two, does not hide his success. The vaccines have made Poonawalla and her family extraordinarily rich. They are now the sixth richest family in India with an estimated fortune of $ 15 billion, according to the Times of India.

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Passionate about art, he owns paintings by Picasso, Dalí, Rembrandt and Rubens. When he tires of his Musée d’Orsay-worthy collection, he entertains himself with his collection of 35 rare luxury cars, including several Ferraris, Bentleys and Rolls-Royces. To store so many masterpieces, the “prince of vaccines” can count on his Lincoln House, a mansion in Mumbai which is the former United States embassy in India. Purchased for a tidy sum of $ 113 million, it was the most expensive Indian house ever to sell when they bought it in 2015.


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