In India, over 56 % of the population; more than 78 crore Indians have been fully vaccinated against Covid 19. Playing major role in this vaccine success story is Dr Suchitra Ella, Joint Managing Director, Bharat Biotech International Ltd. The company developed indigenous Covid 19 vaccine, Covaxin, which Dr Krishna Ella, Managing Director, said is ‘true success story of public-private partnership.’

Story of Covaxin:
When Corona pandemic broke, the entire medical and scientific community set upon the task of formulating an antidote – a vaccine. Bharat Biotech reached out to ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) to share isolated strains of the virus in order to do research. The company was going to embark upon the journey of creating an indigenous Covid 19 vaccine. The biotechnology company has already developed vaccines for influenza H1N1, Rotavirus, Japanese Encephalitis, Rabies, Chikungunya, Zika and the world’s first tetanus-toxoid conjugated vaccine for Typhoid, for the past 25 years.

This time the lockdown and urgency were going to be additional challenges. A group of senior scientists from the company went from Hyderabad to Pune by road to bring back strains of SARS-CoV-2 virus frozen at -70 degree Celsius in the absence of proper logistic operators. And, the rest is history. Amidst, adulation, criticism and bouquets and brickbats Bharat Biotech developed Covaxin based on ‘Inactivated Vero Cell Platform Technology, one of the old tried, tested and proved technology, under stringent levels of GMP and biosafety’.

Covaxin makes for a perfect addition to the wall of fame – 145 global patents, a wide product portfolio of more than 16 vaccines, 4 bio-therapeutics, registrations in more than 123 countries and WHO Pre-qualifications for several of their vaccines. Spearheading marketing and strategy along this path of innovation through leadership and vision, for 25 years of Bharat Biotech is Dr Suchitra Ella, who is fondly referred to as ‘Heart of Bharat Biotech’.

“It was a challenging project because of the tight timelines and it was like taking the bull by horns. We have a great team with remarkable strength as an organization, to pull through any tight situation,” Dr Suchitra Ella relates.
“It was on January 12th 2021, at 1 am, when trucks with Covaxin first batch rolled out from the plant in Hyderabad to 11 different cities in India, to kickstart the national vaccination program that was to start from 16th January. It was a very memorable day for us. I was literally in tears,” she adds.

It was around 1995, the seeds of Bharat Biotech began to be sown, when leaving behind successful careers in the US, Suchitra Ella proposed a shift to India to venture into entrepreneurship.

Suchitra first moved to the US to study graduation in economics and philosophy from the University of Madras. She passed with distinction, and began to work part time at UWCU Madison, while she continued to study – marketing and business. She was in Hyderabad for a short while, completed post graduate diploma in Patent Law from NALSAR and got married, and then it was back to America. She lived in the US with two children and her husband Dr Krishna Ella while pursuing career in the States. This was the time they decided to come back to India.

When the company was founded, she was already having a settled life with two very young children – 12-year and 6-year-old daughters. To completely shift gears was indeed a brave move, and challenging one – not just professionally but on personal front as well.

During the early years of setting up Bharat Biotech, Suchitra was all in one, handling front desk, becoming a marketing executive when she needed to meet doctors with her new products or meet government officials for permissions, and ensuring that the business ran smoothly. “Even today, I feel that each and every role is important – whether its tiny or big,” Dr Suchitra Ella says.

“The first product launch of Hepatitis B Vaccine was a turning point as well as a memorable moment for us. Late Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam was one of the first people we were blessed to meet after returning back from the U.S. When the Hepatitis B vaccine, the first vaccine from Bharat Biotech was launched by Dr. Kalam, then the Principal Scientific Advisor for the Government of India, it was even more a blessed moment. During this launch he sat along with the team of scientists for over 2 hours. “We all were so energized at the end of those two hours. That was the amount of energy he passed on as a mentor and role model,” she recalls.

Dr Suchitra has worked across many operational & commercial areas in the company such as project planning, administration & HR, finance & accounts, purchase, corporate communication, corporate social responsibility, corporate strategy & corporate governance at the board level.

Today as a JMD of a company, mother of two, a grandmother and a woman, she stands tall as an example of an inspiring career woman, who chose to walk the difficult path and lead by example. Suchitra Ella is also the Chairperson of CII Indian Women Network. And, she works towards various charities and art events across the city of Hyderabad.