Covaxin maker Bharat Biotech International CMD Krishna Ella, who was among 74 distinguished personalities receiving Padma awards on Monday, took born into a farming family in Tamil Nadu and set out into the world of biotechnology through agriculture, while his wife and company’s Joint Managing Director Suchitra Ella also hails from a village in the same state.
A yeast molecular biologist, Krishna Ella went to the US for higher education on Rotary’s Freedom from Hunger Fellowship and got Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He then worked as an assistant professor with the Medical University of South Carolina.
Krishna returned home in India and founded Bharat Biotech in 1996 at Genome Valley, Hyderabad, along with his wife Suchitra Ella.
“My initial plan was to keep farming after studying agriculture but due to economic pressure, I joined Bayer, a chemicals and pharmaceuticals company as part of their agricultural division. This was the time that I got a scholarship from the Rotary’s Freedom from Hunger Fellowship and went to study in the United States,” Krishna has said in an interview.
Krishna did not have any intention to return to India but he came back as his mother asked hims to do so and and pursue whatever he wanted here.
He then set up a small lab in Hyderabad with some medical equipment he had and that was the beginning of Bharat Biotech.
The company came into limelight in October 1998, when it launched Revac-B, a recombinant Hepatitis-B vaccine. Priced at USD 1, it was almost 25 cents less than its closest competitor produced by Shantha Biotechnics.
Bharat Biotech also launched oral polio vaccine (OPV) later. It has also developed and launched Rotavirus Vaccine (RV) against childhood diarrhoea, Typhoid Conjugate Vaccine (TCV), Japanese Encephalitis Vaccine, Influenza vaccine, and a five-in-one Pentavalent vaccine.
The company is also developing an inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), as the OPV will be phased out globally by 2023.
In a recent press conference, Krishna Ella said the company has invested about Rs 1,500 crore into research and manufacturing. It takes loans, grants, and sold shares to fund research.
The company has become greatly popular with the development of India’s first indigenous COVID-19 vaccine, Covaxin. Bharat Biotech has grown the virus and inactivated it through a chemical process. It had a collaboration with ICMR to use its SARS-CoV-2 strain in the vaccine.
With the support from ICMR and the regulatory body, the company was able to accelerate the whole process of pre-clinical studies and got into human testing by July 2021.
“Vaccines unlike pharma isn’t a glamorous business, it’s high risk and capital intensive, you need a lot of perseverance to be in this business, Ella managed to pull this off,” a company executive recently said, as per a report.