Further fortifying the Parsi precedent of philanthropy as well as progressiveness, the Poonawalla family, which owns the Serum Institute of India (SII) – the world’s largest producer of vaccines in volumes, have pledged 50 million Pounds ($66.2 million) or Rs. 500 crore, to the University of Oxford for setting up a research center and campus, focused on vaccinology, which would also house the institute behind the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 shot. The Poonawalla family have dedicated their life’s work to the development, manufacture and supply of affordable vaccines to low-and-middle-income countries. The donation will be made through SII’s London subsidiary Serum Life Sciences, which is chaired by Adar Poonawalla’s wife, Natasha.
The Poonawalla Vaccines Research Building will be built on the same site as the recently announced Oxford University Pandemic Sciences Centre, and house over 300 research scientists. The buildings will share infrastructure and support facilities for scientific research and academic teaching and together will form a unique hub that will significantly contribute to global pandemic preparedness and responsiveness. The Poonawalla Building will house the headquarters and main laboratory space of the Jenner Institute, the world-leading academic vaccine institute named after Edward Jenner, the father of vaccination. The most recent Serum Institute-Jenner Institute collaboration saw the rapid development and global roll-out of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at scale.
Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, said, “The University has longstanding ties with the Poonawalla family… I am delighted that through this generous gift we will be able to further our work on vaccines, which have proven so critical to global health.”
Natasha Poonawalla, Chair, Serum Life Sciences, said, “We are delighted to make this £50 million commitment to the University of Oxford, for the building of The Poonawalla Vaccines Research Building… We are committed to developing and supplying vaccines to people who need them most. To make this happen, we build many scientific collaborations with the world’s leading research institutes but today, we are making this keystone donation to give the world-class team at Oxford a brand-new facility from which to take their research to the next level.”
Future Serum Institute-Jenner Institute collaborations include an agreement for SII to manufacture and develop, with large-scale supply, the Jenner Institute’s promising malaria vaccine, currently in Phase III trials, prioritising countries with high malaria burdens. Prof Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute, said the success of collaboration between the university and Serum Institute on the malaria and Covid-19 vaccines highlighted the potential of partnerships between universities and manufacturers to develop and supply vaccines cost-effectively at scale.
The news was celebrated with much pride and delight at Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe (ZTFE) as Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla is their honorary life member. “This will no doubt become a landmark institution as part of the prestigious and world-renowned Oxford University in the UK… more importantly it will promote the tiny minority Parsi entrepreneurship and indeed India to the forefront of the world forum,” shared ZTFE Trustee Rusi Dalal, who was present, alongside ZTFE Patron – Lord Karan F Bilimoria CBE and ZTFE President – Malcolm M Deboo, at the ceremony which bestowed the doctorate onto Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla. “This new Institution at Oxford University will not only be a bilateral boost to India and United Kingdom, but will be of global benefit. We also thank our Patron Lord Karan F Bilimoria CBE, current President of CBI, for using his good office to facilitate in organising this donation.”
SII was founded in 1966 in Pune (Maharashtra, India) by Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla, originally into the business of horse breeding. Considered India’s fifth-richest person, according to Forbes, he was conferred an honorary degree by Oxford University in 2019. SII is headed by his son, Adar Poonawalla. Earlier in September, the Poonawallas invested 50 million pounds in Oxford Biomedica to help fund the development of a plant that manufactures COVID-19 shots.