Companies strike vaccine manufacturing partnerships amidst EU supply worries

Pharmaceutical companies are entering into manufacturing partnerships aimed to increase COVID-19 vaccine production output, amidst deepening concerns over the EU’s vaccine supply delays.

The Novartis and BioNTech manufacturing partnership

Novartis announced on Friday, it has signed an initial agreement with BioNTech, Pfizer’s partner in Europe on the COVID-19 vaccine, to answer global vaccine supply needs. Under the partnership BioNTech will use the Novartis aseptic manufacturing plant in Stein, Switzerland, to support the production of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. Novartis plans to take bulk mRNA active ingredient from BioNTech and fill this into vials for shipment back to BioNTech for their distribution to healthcare system customers around the world. Commencement of production, subject to finalising the agreement, is planned for the second quarter of 2021 and initial shipment is expected in the third quarter.

The Sanofi and BioNTech manufacturing agreement

Sanofi and BioNTech have also entered into a manufacturing partnership agreement on 27 January, under which Sanofi will support production and supply of BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine co-developed with Pfizer, to help increase vaccine accessibility. Sanofi will provide BioNTech access to its established infrastructure and expertise to produce more than 125 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in Europe. The first supplies will originate from Sanofi’s production facilities in Frankfurt, Germany from the summer of 2021.

To respond to the huge demand BioNtech now plans to manufacture two billion doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 by expanding its previously expected output of 1.3 billion doses by more than 50%.

The Bayer and CureVac manufacturing agreement

Bayer has agreed to produce CureVac’s mRNA COVID-19 vaccine candidate to boost the rollout of a promising shot as European Union governments strive to secure additional vaccine supplies. In a joint press briefing held yesterday, the companies announced that although Bayer has not previously produced vaccines, it is planning to use its extensive biotech experience and manufacturing network, including their facility in Wuppertal, Germany, to add an additional 160 million doses of CureVac’s vaccine in 2022 to further expand their supply network.

The EU’s vaccine supply shortage

The agreements are seen as encouraging news for the EU vaccine supply efforts, which has been criticised for the slow rollout of inoculations for its population of around 450 million. The EC’s vaccine shortage issues were highlighted, following the recent controversy over AstraZeneca’s vaccine delivery targets. The EU had entered into a supply agreement with AstraZeneca in August for 300 million doses, with an option for 100 million more, but the British-Swedish company fell short of delivering the agreed amount and reported production delays at plants in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Last week the differences over AstraZeneca’s contractual responsibilities came to a head after the European Commission said it will impose border controls on vaccines entering Northern Ireland from the EU. The EC retracted this notion very quickly and Ursula von der Leyen promised U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson that future EU controls on vaccines won’t disrupt distribution of the contracted supplies of the BioNTech/Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine shots manufactured in Belgium. A step in resolving the issue was made two days ago, with the EU saying that AstraZeneca will supply an additional nine million vaccine doses by March.

Clearly, massive efforts are being made by pharma and biotech industry companies to scale-up their manufacturing capacities and optimise distribution networks and supply chains and put end to the global pandemic. The new partnerships and collaborations in the sector are a great way to speed up the process.

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