Strengthening Global Health: India’s Strategic Vaccine Collaboration in the Netherlands

Union Health Secretary Shri Apurva Chandra's visit to Bilthoven Biologicals highlights a major Indo-European collaboration to boost global vaccine production, especially Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV).

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In a major development for global health, particularly in vaccine production, Union Health Secretary Shri Apurva Chandra recently toured the facilities of Bilthoven Biologicals B.V. in Utrecht, Netherlands. This visit underscores the growing collaboration between India and European entities in enhancing vaccine manufacturing capabilities, especially for Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV).

Bilthoven Biologicals, a renowned pharmaceutical company, was acquired by Serum India Ltd. 2012, becoming a vital part of India’s vaccine production strategy. This acquisition boosted the company’s vaccine production capacity and established a strategic manufacturing foothold in Europe. The company is known for producing vaccines against polio, diphtheria-tetanus-polio, tetanus, and Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG).

During his visit, Secretary Chandra met with key executives, including CEO Mr. Juergen Kwik and Poonawalla Science Park (PSP) CEO at Bilthoven, Mr. Jef De Clercq. The discussions focused on the European Union’s pandemic preparedness and the ongoing collaboration on vaccine production. This partnership, particularly in the production of OPV, is timely as the demand for vaccines continues to escalate globally.

Recently, Serum India and Bharat Biotech announced a new collaboration to ramp up OPV production. As part of this collaboration, Bharat Biotech will work with Bilthoven Biologicals to secure drug substances essential for manufacturing polio vaccines. These vaccines are crucial for India, which has been polio-free since March 2014, and for global distribution. An agreement has already been reached, ensuring that Bharat Biotech will receive the necessary drug substances from Bilthoven Biologicals and enhancing the supply security of OPV worldwide.

This partnership is not just a strategic move for India’s vaccine production but also a significant boost for India’s Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP). The UIP, instrumental in protecting children from life-threatening conditions through vaccination, is now further fortified. Although India achieved its polio-free status in 2014, the threat of poliovirus importation still looms, necessitating continued vigilance and immunization efforts. Regular polio vaccinations are part of the high-quality national and sub-national polio rounds conducted across the country, ensuring the safety and health of our children.

The collaboration between Bilthoven Biologicals and Serum India has not only significantly increased the manufacturing capacity of OPV, now capable of producing up to 500 million doses annually, but also bolstered global health security. This scale-up is crucial in maintaining a steady supply of vaccines, thus ensuring that India remains at the forefront of the fight against polio while contributing to global health security. The partnership’s impact extends beyond India’s borders, significantly contributing to the global health landscape.

This visit and the ensuing agreements represent a significant stride in international health diplomacy and underline the importance of multinational partnerships in tackling global health challenges. The focus on OPV is particularly relevant, given the ongoing efforts to eradicate polio globally. These collaborative efforts not only highlight the technical and manufacturing capabilities of the companies involved but also their commitment to public health and immunization programs worldwide. They serve as a beacon of hope, inspiring us with the potential of such collaborations in shaping a healthier future for all.

The engagement between India’s Union Health Ministry and European vaccine manufacturers like Bilthoven Biologicals exemplifies the global cooperation required to address health emergencies and prevent disease outbreaks. These partnerships are critical in safeguarding global health by strengthening vaccine production capabilities and ensuring a sustained vaccine supply.