“It was important to work with a partner who understood our challenges” — Biological E CEO on how DFC helped it rapidly ramp vaccine production capacity
A Q&A with Mahima Datla, CEO of Biological E, on vaccine manufacturing, the future of healthcare, and women in leadership
When the highly contagious Delta variant led to a swift surge in COVID cases in Southeast Asia in 2021, less than five percent of India’s population had been vaccinated. DFC responded with financing to help Indian pharmaceutical manufacturer Biological E Limited expand capacity to produce an additional one billion doses. Here, Biological E CEO Mahima Datla explains how the company’s work with DFC enabled it to ramp production swiftly and offers advice for other female leaders.
Datla, who joined Biological E 23 years ago, has worked in supply chain logistics and strategy before leading an expansion of the vaccine business.
How has working with DFC helped advance Biological E’s COVID vaccine work?
A vaccine business is highly capital-intensive, with long gestation periods for development and manufacturing in order to combat the pandemic.
With routine vaccines, we usually scale after we have proof of concept and when we’re near the phase three level, but with COVID, we were trying to develop things at such a breakneck speed that we needed to make investment decisions for capacity increase while we were still developing the product. It was important to work with a partner that understood these challenges and could be supportive and flexible about how we could address them. With DFC, we had a lot of flexibility.
We also have a great appreciation for DFC’s ability to connect us with stakeholders in the community, such as the regulators, not just here in the United States but across the world. This was very important, especially for developing COVID vaccines, because everything needed to be done a little bit differently than in the past.
With this support from DFC, we were able to enhance Biological E’s COVID vaccine capacity from one to two billion across two technology platforms.
In addition to presenting a global health emergency, COVID exposed many vulnerabilities in healthcare around the world. How is your company working to address some of these long-term challenges?
Biological E is a major producer of vaccines for chronic and communicable diseases, including diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenzae-B, measles, rubella, Japanese encephalitis, typhoid, and others. We produce close to 700 million doses of vaccines annually other than COVID vaccines on a routine basis and supply more than 100 countries across the globe. We have multiple other vaccines in clinical development that are crucial from a global health perspective such as pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, inactivated polio vaccine and its combinations, human papilloma virus vaccine, etc.
Your company has built significant capacity in India. Is there now an opportunity to really create regional capacity worldwide?
Absolutely. We’re working to be able to create a similar capacity in Africa. There are more structural challenges that will need to be addressed, but there is a great and growing demand in Africa. That is why our business needs to support the large-scale manufacturing capacity that is needed to support growing populations around the world.
DFC is committed to supporting companies that have women on their leadership teams. Can you speak to some of the challenges facing women in leadership?
I was fortunate because I came from a family that valued education for both men and women. But I came to realize this was an exception even amongst my own peers in India. So, I took it for granted that women could be educated and that they could do everything men did.
Young people today have access to so much information and opportunities to help them succeed. But the challenge is ensuring everyone has the same chances in life to access those opportunities, which is not the case for the majority.
What advice do you have for aspiring female leaders?
In addition to the great support system of my family, I’ve been very lucky to have inspirational women mentors in not just India, but globally. It’s so important to surround yourself with that sense of community because I think for women leaders, it’s a small world out there. So, my advice is to surround yourself with the right mentors and don’t give up.