As an innovation-led, life sciences group based in India, Biocon and its subsidiaries demonstrated resilience and agility and responded with a sense of purpose, duty and empathy to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our people exhibited immense courage and commitment to manage the crisis driven by a singular purpose of serving patients. The belief that the top priority in a public health crisis is to protect human lives, led all employees of Biocon, Biocon Biologics and Syngene to relentlessly contribute towards ensuring continuity of operations despite lockdowns in the country and many parts of the world. The unwavering purpose of our people to put ‘patients first’ enabled us to sustain the supply of life-saving medicines, worldwide.
Against a backdrop of stringent COVID-related workplace protocols and strained supply chains, we operated in mission mode to ensure business continuity, serving over 3 million patients with our biosimilars and supplying our generic APIs to nearly 500 customers in more than 60 countries in FY21.
We also took up the challenge to find solutions to support India’s fight against COVID-19, by leveraging our deep scientific expertise and large scale manufacturing capabilities. From diagnostics to therapies, from testing to vaccinations, we did our best to make a meaningful difference.
Our patient-centric approach put us at the forefront of the fightback against the pandemic, as we quickly developed capabilities to help meet the demand for Itolizumab, CytoSorb and Remdesivir to combat the virus. We also facilitated the testing of thousands of samples for COVID-19 and set up an accredited vaccination center in Bengaluru, underscoring our commitment to do what it takes to benefit humanity.
As we continued with our operations, we also focused on protecting our people and ensuring their health and well-being. We invested in implementing strict safety protocols and regularly engaged with our people to keep them motivated.
Biocon Group’s initiatives to tackle Covid-19
The Biocon Group quickly pivoted its capabilities to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic on several fronts.
1. Biocon’s repurposed novel drug Itolizumab
Our scientists repurposed Itolizumab, a novel anti-CD-6 monoclonal antibody, to treat COVID-related complications. ALZUMAb-L (Itolizumab), which received an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI), proved to be an efficacious biologic therapy for moderate to severe Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), the leading cause of fatality in COVID-19 patients. We scaled up our production capacity four-fold to meet the surge in demand for this drug during the second wave of the pandemic in India in April and May 2021. We executed flawlessly during the critical stage of the health crisis, ensuring drug supplies to all parts of the country and benefitting over 50,000 patients. ALZUMAb-L continues to play a crucial role in the fight against the novel coronavirus in India.
2. Vaccinating the World Against COVID-19
To support the Indian government’s efforts to combat and contain the pandemic, Syngene up a Vaccination Center to provide free vaccination for Biocon Group employees, their families and local communities.
We launched a company-wide campaign called ‘Your Safety, Our Priority’ with the intent of reinforcing the importance of vaccination against the virus by sharing relevant details on approved vaccines, registration process, side effects as well as telling the facts from myths.
We used social media channels for various public awareness campaigns to address myths associated with COVID-19 and to promote vaccination among the public.
With the objective of addressing inequitable access both in emerging and developed markets for life saving vaccines and biologics, Biocon Biologics has entered two strategic partnerships, one with Serum Institute Life Sciences for vaccines and infectious disease antibodies, and the second with Adagio Therapeutics for a novel COVID antibody therapy.
The Serum Institute Life Sciences strategic alliance will focus on COVID-19 vaccines in the near-term as a large part of the global population remains unvaccinated. There is also strong potential from the booster dose of COVID-19 vaccines.
Biocon Biologics has also entered into a partnership with Adagio Therapeutics for ADG20, a novel antibody therapy for COVID-19. This entails manufacturing and commercialization in several emerging markets including India. ADG20 is being developed for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 as a single dose intramuscular injection.
3. Comprehensive Portfolio of Therapies for COVID-19
Biocon Biologics offered a comprehensive portfolio of products for treating COVID-19 patients at different stages of the disease spectrum, including RemWin (Remdesivir) and ARAFLU (Favipiravir) for mild to moderate patients, ALZUMAb-L (Itolizumab) for moderate to severe patients and CytoSorb for critical patients.
Syngene obtained a voluntary license from Gilead for manufacturing and distribution of Remdesivir, a treatment used to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The Company manufactured Remdesivir and provided supplies to specialist distributors for distribution in India.
Biocon Biologics’ India business set up helplines for patients and field staff worked diligently to facilitate medicine supplies.
4. Scaling up Testing Capacity
As the nation was battling to ramp up testing capacity for COVID-19, Syngene contributed to the cause with the commissioning of a RT-PCR testing laboratory. In addition to testing thousands of samples for hospitals in Karnataka free of charge, the laboratory also provided a backbone for a proactive all-employee testing program for the Biocon Group. Under this program, all employees of the Biocon Group underwent testing.
4. Contributing to Global Research
Syngene stepped in to play an active role in the fight against COVID-19 by applying its scientific expertise to develop solutions for clients.
As the pandemic spread throughout the world, there was an emerging need for an efficient, reliable and scalable testing mechanism. Syngene developed an ELISA (Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay) antibody testing kit at its research facility in Bengaluru to address this growing need. This advanced, highly reliable test identifies the presence of SARS-CoV-
2 antibodies in blood samples and confirms if a patient has been exposed to the coronavirus. With high throughput, the kit can generate results within three hours and is being manufactured and distributed in partnership with bioscience firm HiMedia Laboratories.
Syngene was a co-recipient of a Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) grant to develop a novel vaccine against COVID-19 using the measles virosome.
The Company also became the recipient of a BIRAC grant to generate a human-ACE-2 transgenic mouse to support studies targeting the prevention or treatment of SARS-CoV-2 infection. The human ACE-2 cell surface protein engages the viral spike protein to facilitate entry into the cell.
Additionally, the Company developed and validated several relevant assays, including a neutralizing antibody assay and T-cell response assay for assessing immune response from infection or post vaccination towards assessment of acquired immunity against SARS-CoV-2.
Syngene also discovered several novel, high-affinity monoclonal antibody (mAb) assets and manufactured research tools such as receptor-binding domain (RBD) and S1 proteins of SARS-CoV-2. These mAbs have the potential to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, alleviate symptoms and limit progression to severe disease in patients with mild to moderate COVID-19, particularly in those who have not yet developed an endogenous antibody response.
4. Serving the Underprivileged During COVID-19
The Biocon Foundation’s eLAJ Smart Clinic program has been well-positioned to be at the forefront of the pandemic. Our staff at 20 Primary Healthcare Centers (PHCs) across 7 districts of Karnataka, rose to the challenge and assisted in COVID-19 relief operations, covering door-to-door contact tracing and COVID-19 awareness. In all spheres of activity at the PHCs, our staff put aside their fears and anxieties and supported the government effort. Our lab technicians were well equipped to handle Rapid Antigen Testing and our data entry operators were deployed to efficiently use the apps that were developed to sync data to the ICMR database.
At a time when essential outpatient services were disrupted, eLAJ clinics proactively reached out to patients and provided timely access to care for people in need.
Biocon Foundation also engaged in relief efforts and provided thousands of dry ration kits in Bengaluru, Visakhapatnam and Sangareddy districts of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to migrant workers displaced by the pandemic.