Indian billionaire to undercut price of polio vaccine

Cyrus Poonawalla, the Indian billionaire who founded the Serum Institute of India, Ltd., plans to slash the price of polio immunizations to undercut existing vaccines.

In addition to lowering polio immunization prices, the Serum Institute also plans to introduce shots for diarrhea and pneumonia in a bid to fight Pfizer, Inc., and GlaxoSmithKline, Plc., Bloomberg reports.

The Serum Institute's acquisition of Dutch vaccine business Bilthoven Biologicals last year will be integrable to its new plan. The Dutch business allowed Serum to add an injectable form of polio inoculation to the oral drops the company already provides to such organizations as the United Nations Children's Fund.

Bilthoven manufactures an injectable vaccine that is based on an inactive form of the polio virus first developed in the 1950s by Jonas Salk. The company is one of four in the world with such capability, according to Bloomberg.

"We decided to go in for the acquisition of this plant with the encouragement of the Gates Foundation," Poonawalla said, Bloomberg reports. "This plant would be scaled up for production, as we've done in all our other vaccines, to give 100 percent of the requirement to the rest of the world."

Bruce Aylward, the assistant director-general of the World Health Organization, said that the Serum Institute's plan will revolutionize polio eradication efforts worldwide. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has also praised the plan, which would lower the chance of infection commonly found with oral drops.

"On May 30, Mr. Gates came over for a private dinner at my house," and asked that Serum Institute remain family-owned, Poonawalla said, Bloomberg reports. "The obvious reason was that, as soon as we sell the company, 'big pharma' would immediately double the price of vaccines."