The Serum Institute of India on Tuesday said it plans to produce up to six crore doses of a coronavirus vaccine this year, Reuters reported. The potential vaccine is under trial at the University of Oxford in Britain, with whom Serum is working.

The Serum Institute of India is the world’s largest maker of vaccines by volume. The institute decided to start manufacturing the potential Covid-19 vaccine, called “ChAdOx1 nCoV-19”, as it had shown success in animal trials and had progressed to tests on humans, Serum Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla said.

“They are a bunch of very qualified, great scientists [at Oxford],” Poonawalla told Reuters. “That’s why we said we will go with this and that’s why we are confident.”

Scientists at the United States’ National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory last month inoculated six rhesus macaque monkeys with single doses of the Oxford vaccine, The News York Times reported on April 27. The monkeys were all exposed to heavy quantities of the virus. However, over 28 days later, they were all healthy, said Vincent Munster, the researcher who conducted the test.

Oxford last week began a Phase I clinical trial involving 1,100 people. In May it will begin a combined Phase II and Phase III trial involving another 5,000. The combined trial is designed to test both effectiveness and safety.

“The rhesus macaque is pretty much the closest thing we have to humans,” Dr Munster added.

Poonawalla said he hoped trials of the Oxford vaccine, due to finish by September, would be successful. He plans to produce the vaccine at two manufacturing plants owned by Serum in Pune. In 2021, around 40 crore doses could be produced if all goes well, he said.

“A majority of the vaccine, at least initially, would have to go to our countrymen before it goes abroad,” he said. Poonawalla said that while Serum estimates the vaccine will cost Rs 1,000 per dose, he expects governments to provide it for free.

Poonawalla added that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office is “very closely involved” in the production of the vaccine, and Serum is hoping the government will help foot the bill to manufacture it. Until September, the company will spend Rs 30 crore to Rs 40 crore on making around 30 lakh to 50 lakh doses per month, he added.

Currently, as many as 100 potential Covid-19 candidate vaccines are now under development by biotech and research teams around the world. Phase 1 clinical trials, that is, trials on people, are being carried out for five of these vaccines.

Globally, over 31 lakh people have so far tested positive for the virus, and over 2.1 lakh have died, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who is funding seven ideas for a potential vaccine, had said on April 26 that a vaccine could be ready within a year.