Viruses that are used for the production of several vaccines need host cells in order to grow. Fertile chicken eggs are an efficient medium for virus replication and have been used for over 70 years.
India’s largest poultry producer, Venky’s, which has almost 100% market share in the country for specific pathogen-free (SPF) eggs and supplies to Serum Institute of India and Hester Biosciences, has saw demand increase but not due to the Covid vaccination.
“At present, SPF eggs are not used for the production of Covid vaccines. However, research points in this direction. The high demand is due to the increased cost of imported eggs and the increased demand for other vaccines, including poultry, ”Venky Managing Director Prasanna Pedgaonkar told TOI. Of the 10 lakhs of SPF eggs we produce each month, a substantial amount is used for the production of human vaccines against diseases like rabies and influenza (including H1N1), ”he said. For Covid vaccines that require virus replication, alternatives like cell culture are used.
“The price of SPF eggs depends on the quantity and frequency of supply. The price quoted by US-based producers is $ 2-2.5 per egg. Landing price in India will be higher due to freight and tariffs. Venky eggs cost around $ 1 per egg, ”Pedgaonkar said. The expansion of Venky’s SPF egg capacity was completed in October 2020, according to an exchange filing in May. The company said its capacity utilization was 63% in May 2021, and it targets 85% annual capacity utilization of 1.4 crore SPF eggs in FY 22 and reach 90% in the year 23.
After being the first Asian company to manufacture eggs for vaccine production in 1983, Venky’s has become the world’s fourth largest producer of SPF eggs. Venky founder BV Rao, known as the father of poultry farming in India, started a poultry vaccine production facility called Ventri Biologicals in 1979. “To avoid dependence on imports, Venky’s has signed a technology transfer agreement with an American company in 1983 for the local production of SPF Eggs. Since 1988 India has been self-sufficient in SPF eggs, ”said Pedgaonkar, adding that Venky’s also exported SPF eggs.
Venky’s has virtually no competitors in the production of SPF eggs in the country due to a complex and lengthy manufacturing process. “To produce an SPF flock of poultry, one must select pure lines (pedigree) on the basis of characteristics such as disease resistance, eggshell quality, feed consumption, superior production and maximum quality of life. These flocks then need to be cleaned up against vertically and laterally transmitted poultry pathogens for three generations, which takes at least 6-7 years, ”said Pedgaonkar.
During their lifetime, birds cannot be vaccinated or treated with antibiotics. According to Pedgaonkar, the birds’ blood samples are tested weekly against 42 antibodies to confirm their SPF status. Any failure leads to starting from scratch. Herds also have special requirements such as positive pressure filtered air houses, preheated feed, filtered water supply, and strict biosecurity.
Venky’s reported a profit of Rs 78 crore in the January-March 2021 quarter, thanks to better achievements in the sale of chicks and broilers despite some impact from avian flu in January. Its stock at Rs 2,618 is near its 52-week high and has risen more than 48% in 2021.
Pedgaonkar added that the SPF division is important to Venky not only from a revenue perspective, but because of its potential for diversification. “We are engaged in the immunization of SPF birds against human / poultry viruses with repeated doses. The antibodies produced are then transferred to the egg yolks, which are purified and used for treatment, especially in rotavirus infection in children (which causes severe diarrhea). Studies are also underway to use this technology for the treatment of snakebites, rabies, tetanus, etc. “, did he declare.