Share this page

Every mother thinks her baby is special—but Ibrahim’s mother has actual proof of his uniqueness. In the summer of 2012, he was the first child in Nigeria to be immunized with Biological E. Limited’s (BioE) pentavalent, a five-in-one vaccine that prevents catastrophic illness, disability, and death from Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Hepatitis B, and Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib).

Pentavalent, one of the most commonly administered vaccines in the world, was designed for people like Ibrahim’s mother—for whom vaccines were too expensive, inconvenient, or otherwise impossible to obtain for their family. Before pentavalent, nine shots were needed to receive the same level of protection, but the protocol for pentavalent requires only three shots—which means that more people are likely to receive the entire regimen and be fully protected over their lifetime. 

Before pentavalent, nine shots were needed to receive the same level of protection instead of three shots. © GAVI/Adrian BrooksBefore pentavalent, nine shots were needed to receive the same level of protection instead of three shots. © GAVI/Adrian Brooks

The need to administer fewer doses also allows governments to reduce their overall investment in vaccinations.  That’s especially important in Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa.

BioE can offer the vaccine at a lower cost than others because it is a high volume-manufacturer. “We were able to produce large-scale quantities and provide affordable vaccine prices at close to one dollar a dose,” says Mahima Datla, managing director of BioE. “When BioE entered the market with pentavalent, our price was about 30 percent less than the competition. This meant that life-saving vaccines can reach the most underprivileged children in the world.”

Immunizing children against preventable diseases is one way to give them the chance to grow up healthy. © GAVI/Sala LewisImmunizing children against preventable diseases is one way to give them the chance to grow up healthy. © GAVI/Sala Lewis

IFC’s $60 million loan to BioE in 2017 is helping the company diversify its product range and increase its production capacity. IFC’s support will also facilitate research and development leading to new vaccines, while scaling up manufacturing facilities for new products.

Vaccinating Against High Costs

Immunizing children against preventable diseases is one way to give children the chance to grow up healthy and continue to thrive, a key goal of the World Bank Group. But for decades, millions of children across the world did not have access to vaccines. The high cost of vaccines, cold chain logistics, and transportation and wages for health care workers were some of the stumbling blocks faced by middle- and low-income countries. This also meant that newer, more expensive vaccines—routinely used in wealthy countries—were not reaching the world’s poorest children.   

To combat these trends, the World Bank in 1998 convened a summit of the World Health Organization, (WHO), UNICEF, academics, health ministers, international agencies, and the pharmaceutical industry.  The result was the establishment of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, now known as Gavi, whose founders include the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the WHO, UNICEF, and other development organizations and vaccine manufacturers. Through Gavi, a large and sustainable market for vaccines was created by consolidating country demand and channeling procurement through UNICEF and the Pan American Health Organization. Since then, global demand for vaccines has surged. 

No Compromise on Quality

These efforts eased the way for BioE’s pentavalent. In 2012, the WHO granted pre-qualification status to pentavalent, making the company eligible to offer it to UNICEF, the world’s largest purchaser of vaccines. Once the WHO certified that BioE’s vaccines met global standards for quality, safety, and efficacy, pentavalent was cleared for international markets such as Nigeria—where it reached Ibrahim.

A surge in global demand for vaccines has encouraged makers to make investments in expanding production to supply larger volumes. © BioEA surge in global demand for vaccines has encouraged makers to make investments in expanding production to supply larger volumes. © BioE

BioE is well-positioned to offer its vaccines to people across the globe. Between 2012 and 2017, the firm supplied more than 2 billion doses of different vaccines, and its low-cost vaccines are reaching children in over 80 countries across the world. Many of these countries are home to young people who run severe risks for deadly diseases.

BioE, founded in 1953, is the second largest vaccine manufacturer in India. Since 2008, it has invested over $100 million in research and development. The company is currently developing hexavalent, which adds protection against polio to the pentavalent vaccine. It also has in its pipeline Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV), Typhoid Conjugate Vaccine, and Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV).

BioE’s work is in line with IFC’s efforts to support the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals by backing research and development of vaccines that address communicable diseases and that reduce mortality for children under the age of five.

Join the conversation: #IFCimpact

Published in October 2019