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  /  Investing   /  Dr Cyrus Poonawalla: India’s Vaccine King

Dr Cyrus Poonawalla: India’s Vaccine King

Cyrus Poonawalla is one of India’s and the world’s wealthiest businessmen. With a net worth of $13.2 billion, the 80-year-old is India’s 12th richest person. He nearly five-folded his net worth in a decade, according to Forbes. His enterprise, which he began when he was 25 years old, has earned him the moniker “Vaccine King of India.”

It is not just about a man’s hard work; it is also about spotting a market opportunity and developing a product that will benefit the masses. His company specializes in pediatric vaccines, making the dream of affordable vaccines for all the country’s youngsters a reality.

He amassed wealth and accolades that are still a faraway dream for many today. Behind his colourful exterior hides a thoughtful man with a vision. He has demonstrated that staying connected to your roots is possible even when your life’s on the fast track.

Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla
Source – GQ India


Cyrus Poonawalla was born in 1941 in Pune, India. His forefathers and grandfathers were horse breeders. Poonawalla attended Bishop School and graduated from the Brihan Maharashtra College of Commerce at the University of Pune in 1966. He went into his family’s racehorse breeding business after finishing his education. He immediately realised, however, that horse racing has no future in a socialist country like India, and he began exploring other ways to make money.

 He experimented with high-end automotive design and built a sports car prototype based on the D-type Jaguar. However, he dropped the idea and shifted his attention to developing items that will benefit the public.

Serum Institution of India

He started Serum Institution in 1966 intending to extract therapeutic serum from horse blood. Serum launched its first therapeutic tetanus serum and began making anti-tetanus vaccinations within two years. In 1974, it began manufacturing the DTP vaccine, which protects children from diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus. In 1981, it created an anti-snake venom serum to treat snakebites.

Serum Institution developed to become the world’s largest vaccine producer, with 150 countries served, including the United States and Europe. It is also a well-known manufacturer of paediatric vaccinations. In the global vaccine manufacturing segment, Serum Institution has a 60 per cent market share.

Serum Institution is currently under international scrutiny for its part in the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. It has many COVID-19 vaccine agreements and is conducting an Indian trial for an AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine. However, Cyrus’ journey to becoming India’s Vaccine King was not simple.

Poonawalla struggled to secure funding for his company during its early years. Serum Institution was founded in 1966 with a budget of USD 12,000, which he raised by selling horses. Poonawalla had to overcome another obstacle in his quest for recognition. His company began producing vaccines when India’s infrastructure and facilities were still lacking. It was difficult for an entrepreneur from a developing country to break into the field of vaccine manufacture, which was dominated by Western businesses.

UNICEF and the Pan American Health Organization rely on it for immunizations. Exports account for 85 per cent of the company’s revenue. Serum claims to be on track to become a $100 billion corporation by 2022.

Cyrus Poonawalla
Source –

Vaccine for all

Serum Institution has focused on providing cheap vaccinations to better the lives of the public since its inception. Some of Serum Institution’s vaccinations are priced at Rs 5, which is less than the cost of a cup of tea in India. He had the ambition to give everyone with high-quality vaccines at a reasonable price, and he manufactured a comprehensive range of pediatric vaccines.

Serum Institution has teamed up with several worldwide organisations to help him achieve his great goal. The company makes vaccines for diseases such as Meningococcal A, H1N1 Influenza, Rotavirus, and others. The company’s inexpensive vaccine strategy has paid off, with yearly revenues of 59 billion dollars ($840 million). And its progress has been rapid in recent years.

The company’s revenue increased from $9.87 billion in FY08 to 48.37 billion in FY15 in just seven years.


Throughout his life, the 80-year-old entrepreneur has garnered numerous awards. In 2005, the Indian government honoured Poonawalla with the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Padma Shri for his services to medicine.
He is also the first Indian to get the Pan American Health Organization’s (PAHO) and the Pan American Health and Education Foundation’s “Excellence in Inter-American Public Health” award (PAHEF).

WHO and UN organizations are assigned to Serum Institution to export high-quality vaccines to agencies working to promote children’s health around the world.

Cyrus Poonawalla
Source –

Success lessons from Dr Cyrus Poonawalla

Young investors can learn a thing or two from Dr Cyrus Poonawalla as they shape their futures.

It is Worth Taking a Chance: He hailed from a wealthy family with a well-established business, yet he decided to venture into an entirely new field. When he and his partner founded Serum Institution, they had no prior expertise in developing vaccines. However, they hired 10 doctors and scientists from a government-run organisation and manufactured the first vaccination within two years of starting up. Serum Institution was converted into a USD 11.5 billion enterprise by Poonawalla.

Maintaining Control: He closely controlled the business, giving him complete control over management and decision-making. Poonawalla avoided diversity as much as possible. He notably stated in an interview that there is no purpose to expand if his son is incapable of managing the expansion. Adar Poonawalla, thankfully, has proven to be a worthy successor to his father.

Written by- Niki Shah

Edited by- Isha Mehrotra

The post Dr Cyrus Poonawalla: India’s Vaccine King appeared first on The Economic Transcript.

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