By the start of 2020, Adar Poonawalla’s company, Serum Institute of India, was comfortably the biggest vaccine manufacturer by volume in the world. It was making 1,5 billion doses of vaccines annually against diseases such as polio, tetanus, diphtheria and hepatitis B at its state-of-the-art 40-hectare campus in Pune, a city 150 km east of Mumbai.
Roughly two thirds of all the children on the planet were vaccinated with one or more of its products. At 39, Adar was truly the “vaccine prince” (his father was known as the king) not just of India, but of the world, with a jet-setting lifestyle and exceedingly glamorous wife to boot. Then came the coronavirus pandemic.
“My immediate reaction was that one way or another we’d have to play a significant and very crucial role, leveraging our capacities to make vaccines available to the world,” Adar tells me over Zoom. He is sitting in a plush white leather chair inside a disused Airbus A320, which he has lavishly refurbished into a swanky office with a lounge, boardroom and bedroom.