India’s billionaire Poonawallas pledge $66m to Oxford University

The world’s largest vaccine maker to set up a research campus at the premier university for teams researching inoculations.

Adar Poonawalla, chief executive officer (CEO) of the Serum Institute of India, at his plant in Pune, India [File: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

Vaccine maker Serum Institute of India (SII) has pledged 50 million British pounds ($66.2m) to the University of Oxford for setting up a research campus that would also house the institute behind the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 shot.

The investment was made through the Indian company’s Serum Life Sciences unit, the Oxford University said on Wednesday.

The new Poonawalla Vaccines Research Building would be named after SII’s billionaire owners. The new facility will house more than 300 research scientists and will help scale up the university’s key vaccine development programmes, a press statement said.

The donation will be the university’s largest-ever gift for vaccines research, the statement added.

The pledge builds on the collaboration between Oxford University, AstraZeneca and SII, the world’s largest maker of vaccines and the producer of a version of the British duo’s COVID-19 shot for low- and middle-income countries.

SII has also agreed with the Jenner Institute, which was behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, to produce and develop Jenner’s R21/Matrix-M malaria shot on a large scale. The shot is currently in late-stage trials.

SII was founded in 1966 in the western Indian city of Pune by Cyrus Poonawalla, son of a horse breeder, and India’s fifth-richest person, according to Forbes. In 2019, Cyrus was also conferred an honorary degree by Oxford University.

It is currently run by his son Adar Poonawalla, whose wife Natasha Poonawalla heads Serum Life Sciences. With a penchant for luxury cars and racehorses, the pair is often seen rubbing shoulders with Hollywood and Bollywood stars.

The Poonawallas in September invested 50 million pounds ($66.2m) in Oxford Biomedica to help fund the development of a plant that manufactures COVID-19 shots.

Source: News Agencies