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Bioprist aims to establish COVAXIN hub in Jamaica

New developments in the drive for supply of COVID-19 vaccines in the Latin America and Caribbean region are pushing Montego Bay-based pharmaceutical company Bioprist to set up a hub in Jamaica for distributing COVAXIN, the Indian-made pandemic vaccine.

The Business Observer understands that Bioprist, which last month signed a deal with Bharat Biotech, the Indian manufacturer of COVAXIN for the exclusive importation and distribution in Jamaica of the vaccine, has been getting marketing intelligence supporting such a hub in Montego Bay.


Regional pharmaceutical companies have approached Bioprist, which is led by medical doctor and entrepreneur, Dr Guna Muppuri, indicating an interest in partnering with the Jamaican company in distributing COVAXIN throughout the region.


One such entity is the Paraguayan-based Quimfa SA which is interested in partnering with Bioprist.


Bioprist markets pharmaceuticals in the wider Caribbean encompassing Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, The Bahamas, Turks & Caicos Islands, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Eastern Caribbean islands, Trinidad & Tobago, and Guyana.


Quimfa SA, which has been dedicated to the development, production and marketing of pharmaceutical products since 1985, has expressed an interest in buying 200,000 doses of COVAXIN from Bioprist. This expression of purchase, dated March 27, 2021, also came with an admission that the company has already received authorisation from the Paraguayan Ministry of Health to import and commercialise the vaccine within Paraguay.


When contacted, Dr Muppuri refused to comment on his company’s business dealings with Quimfa SA or any other pharmaceutical company, citing business confidentiality.


However, he did concede to Bioprist’s ambition of having Montego Bay as a hub for the distribution of COVAXIN throughout the region. Dr Muppuri plans to execute this hub through a Special Economic Zone facility, thereby benefiting from tax and technological benefits.


He pointed out that recent developments such as approvals for COVAXIN in countries such as Paraguay, Guyana and Mexico makes it suitable for Montego Bay being a hub for distribution of the Indian-made COVID-19 vaccine given the second city’s strong linkages in logistics, port and freight services.


Indies Pharma has been selected as the preferred partner for the private sector distribution of COVAXIN in Jamaica. The company was selected as the preferred partner by its parent company, Bioprist Pharmaceuticals.


On April 1 this year, the board of Indies Pharma Jamaica, which is listed on the Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE), agreed to move forward with the distribution deal for COVAXIN in Jamaica. This is, however, subject to the approval from the Government of Jamaica.


Indies Pharma Corporate secretary disclosed to the JSE that the company’s intent to distribute the said vaccine. COVAXIN is yet to be approved for emergency use authorisation by the World Health Organization (WHO), which has caused the Jamaican authorities to withhold permission for the use of the product in the island.


The management of Bioprist and Bharat Biotech are now in talks with the Jamaican Government and State pharmaceutical procurement company, the National Health Fund, as they seek to win over approval of the vaccine in Jamaica. The Government has so far held fast to its position of maintaining a rigorous regime for COVID-19 drug approval, involving inclusion in the WHO emergency use listing or authorisation by the US Food and Drug Administration, Health Canada, or the European Medicines Agency.


Officials of Bioprist and Bharat Biotech have expressed confidence that COVAXIN will receive WHO approval once the global health body has reviewed data from the drug’s recently concluded phase-three trial involving nearly 26,000 people and showing an efficacy rate of 81 per cent and kits suitability for persons between the ages of 12 and 85 years.


Dr Muppuri advised that the Indian manufacturers have given Jamaica a commitment to deliver 100,000 doses of COVAXIN on or before July this year subject to approval from the Jamaican health ministry.

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