SII Founder Is Vaccine King For Emerging Markets

A startling 65% of children globally receive at least one vaccine made by the SII.

The Serum Institute of India (SII) reportedly is set to export 20 million to 30 million doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine via the World Health Organization’s Covax initiative.

The SII, which is owned by the Poonawalla Group, has already seen its vaccines used in approximately 170 countries worldwide since the start of the pandemic.

Production scaling is not new for the SII, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by number of doses produced globally in 2021. Currently, 65% of children across the globe receive at least one vaccine manufactured by the SII.

Behind the operation is Poonawalla Group founder and chairman Cyrus Poonawalla, who is also SII’s managing director. Born in 1941 to a Parsi family whose profession was horse breeding and racing circuits, he wanted to create something for the poor rather than the elites. An accidental conversation with a veterinarian at the horse farm led to his setting up the SII in 1966.

Poonawalla’s strong belief in “health for all with affordable vaccines” led to the phenomenal growth of the SII. When life-saving immuno-biologicals were in short supply in India and being imported at high prices, SII started producing vaccines for humans at affordable prices. The company was able to make India self-sufficient in production of the tetanus antitoxin, snake antivenom serum, the DTP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) group of vaccines and the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) group of vaccines.

As SII grew, it acquired Netherlands-based Bilthoven Biologicals in 2012, which provided a strategic base that further intensified its efforts to eradicate polio worldwide.

Poonawalla’s wealth pushed him up 57 spots on a prominent list of the wealthy in the past year, the fastest rise among Indian billionaires and fifth fastest worldwide. His net worth of $18.5 billion made him the 86th-richest person in the world, according to the Hurun Global Rich List 2021.