This is an excerpt from the March 16, 2021 edition of Medically Necessary, a health care supply chain newsletter. Subscribe here.
Good afternoon. Medically Necessary is a newsletter by Matt Blois about the health care supply chain — how we get drugs, devices and medical supplies to health care providers and patients.
Pharma firms working together to make each other’s vaccines
Team effort: Making enough COVID-19 vaccine for the entire world is such a big task that pharmaceutical manufacturers have to work together to deliver enough doses.
The competitors: In some cases, companies that are normally competitors are making deals to share technology and manufacturing capacity to ensure they meet deadlines for vaccine delivery.
Merck announced earlier this year that it would produce Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine at some of its facilities. The U.S. government is chipping in $269 million to adapt Merck’s manufacturing facilities.
- “Two of the largest health care and pharmaceutical companies in the world — that are usually competitors — are working together on the vaccine,” President Joe Biden said at a press conference about the deal in early March. “This is the type of collaboration between companies we saw in World War II.”
BioNTech worked with Pfizer to develop its COVID-19 vaccine. Now, it’s teaming up with more than a dozen companies — including Novartis, Merck and Sanofi — to produce it, according to The Wall Street Journal.
- Rentschler Biopharma makes mRNA, and Novartis may soon help with this step. Merck and Evonik Industries supply the fat molecules that surround the mRNA. Several other companies are involved in the formulation and filling vials, according to the Wall Street Journal report.
- After publishing some disappointing data about its own coronavirus vaccine, Sanofi is working with Pfizer and BioNTech to produce 100 million doses, according to a report from Fierce Pharma.
Takeda struck a deal this week to temporarily give up some manufacturing capacity in Germany so Johnson & Johnson can produce its COVID-19 vaccine.
- The manufacturing facility, operated by IDT Biologika GmbH, was reserved for a dengue fever vaccine candidate that Takeda is developing, according to a press release. Johnson & Johnson will get to use the facility for three months, and then it will be turned back over to Takeda for the dengue vaccine candidate.
- “It has become abundantly clear over the past months that the challenges posed by the pandemic can only be solved by cooperation and commitment,” IDT Biologika CEO Jürgen Betzing said, according to the press release. “I believe this short-term arrangement between three industry organizations demonstrates our sector’s willingness and ability to contribute to creatively solving this crisis.”
- Harvard health care supply chain researcher Prashant Yadav noted on Twitter that it normally takes seven to eight months to secure a slot for a biologic at a contract manufacturer.
- In addition, Takeda plans to use Novavax’s technology — currently in phase three trials in the U.S. — to produce 250 million COVID-19 vaccine doses for Japan. Takeda will also import and distribute 50 million doses from Moderna.
The contractors: Pharmaceutical companies often rely on contractors to carry out certain steps of the manufacturing process so they can focus on drug discovery and marketing.
- Those contractors are playing a critical role in scaling up production quickly. Several companies have made major infrastructure investments this year to meet the challenge.
IDT Biologika, in addition to producing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, is helping AstraZeneca manufacture its COVID-19 vaccine, which has received regulatory approvals in a number of countries but not the U.S.
- AstraZeneca and IDT Biologika announced they would commit hundreds of millions of euros to expand IDT Biologika’s manufacturing capacity. The additional capacity should come online in 2022.
- IDT Biologika was also collaborating with the German Center for Vaccine Research to create a COVID-19 vaccine but postponed further development after disappointing results in early clinical trials.
- In addition to those injectable vaccines, Emergent is working with Vaxart to make an experimental COVID-19 vaccine pill, which has completed a phase one trial with mediocre results.
- Last year, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority committed $628 million to scale up Emergent’s manufacturing capacity ahead of the vaccine rollout.
- Last year, the company announced deals to carry out parts of the manufacturing process for vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and AstraZeneca at facilities in Indiana and Maryland.
- The company also has an agreement to help produce a vaccine candidate developed by Arcturus Therapeutics. That vaccine candidate is currently in a phase two trial.
- Catalent announced a $130 million investment in manufacturing capacity in September. That expansion has the capability to produce materials for COVID-19 vaccines when it comes online in 2022, Fierce Pharma reports.
Baxter International announced a deal to fill vials with 60 million to 90 million doses of the Moderna vaccine.
- The company is also providing manufacturing services for the Novavax vaccine candidate.
- “The quest to develop vaccines for COVID-19 has reinforced the opportunity for industry partners to work together and contribute their unique capabilities and expertise for the benefit of all,” said Baxter BioPharma Solution Vice President Marie Keeley, according to a press release.
- In November, Baxter announced a $50 million manufacturing investment — funded by Baxter and an undisclosed client — of the facilities that will fill vials for Moderna. The additional capacity should come online in 2022.
The future: While the Biden administration is promising to have vaccines for all adults in America by this summer, the full vaccination campaign will stretch out much longer.
- Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker estimates that it will take well over three years to vaccinate three-quarters of the world’s population, hopefully enough to stop the spread of the virs.
It’s still not clear if vaccine recipients will need additional boosters to maintain immunity or fight against new strains of the virus. If so, that would make the process much longer.
The recent partnerships among competing pharmaceutical companies is immediately increasing manufacturing capacity for COVID-19 vaccines. But drug companies are also making major investments in manufacturing capacity that won’t come online for years. That suggests they’re betting the full vaccine rollout could stretch out for a long time.
Reading list: The best stories about the health care supply chain
- The White House is set to unveil a wide-reaching, billion-dollar campaign aimed at convincing every American to get vaccinated — STAT
- Zuckerberg unveils Facebook’s plan to help get people vaccinated — Axios
- Plenty of Vaccines, but Not Enough Arms: A Warning Sign in Cherokee Nation — The New York Times
- A Vaccine Success Story Unfolds in an Unlikely Corner of U.S. — Bloomberg