Adar Poonawalla is chief executive of the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine producer, which even before coronavirus struck was making more than 1.5bn jabs a year for everything from polio and diphtheria to tetanus, BCG, hepatitis B and the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccinations.
He and his family extraordinarily wealthy. They are now the sixth richest family in India with an estimated $15bn (£11bn) fortune. The family home is Lincoln House, a Mumbai mansion which is the former US embassy to India. At $113m it was the most expensive Indian home ever sold when they bought it in 2015. And this week he signed a deal to rent a London house, a Mayfair mansion for a record £50,000 a week. The property, which at 2,3oo sq metres (25,000 sq ft) is 24 times the size of the average English home, comes with an adjoining guest house and backs on to one of Mayfair’s “secret gardens”. He is renting it from Polish billionaire Dominika Kulczyk, who bought it for £57m last year.
Poonawalla, who was educated at £30,000-a-year St Edmund’s School in Canterbury and the University of Westminster. He travels by helicopter and private jet, a converted Airbus A320 . He owns paintings by Picasso, Dalí, Rembrandt and Rubens, and has a collection of 35 rare luxury cars including several Ferraris, Bentleys and Rolls-Royces, as well as a Mercedes S350 converted into a replica Batmobile.
Producing vaccines was not Poonawalla’s idea. His father, Cyrus, founded SII in 1966 as a sideline to his 81-hectare (200-acre) thoroughbred racehorse stables Poonawalla Stud. (Serum from purified horse blood was used in the production of early vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, and scarlet fever.)
After he watched a Bill Gates talk in 2015, in which the billionaire Microsoft co-founder-turned philanthropist warned that the world was not prepared for a new viral pandemic, e doubled the firm’s production facilities and began producing more vaccines for developing countries on behalf of the World Health Organization and Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi), the vaccine charity supported by Gates and of which Poonawalla is a board member.
“Maybe not in my lifetime, but at least in my children’s lifetimes, there’s going to be another global pandemic,” he told Bloomberg. “And I’m willing to bet anything that pandemic will be far worse than this.”
The world's misfortune guarantees the wealth of his dynasty well into the future.