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Filling and packaging of primary containers is a crucial piece of COVID-19 vaccine and therapeutic production.
As the biopharmaceutical industry races ahead with development of vaccines and therapeutics to address the COVID-19 pandemic, experts have acknowledged that building up adequate capacity for fill/finish and ensuring the supply of materials for primary packaging containers are crucial requirements. In an unprecedented compression of manufacturing timelines and with significant investment from government and non-profit sources, commercial fill/finish manufacturing capacity is being built at-risk, while drug development and clinical trials are ongoing.
“A vaccine will only be effective if we can make and distribute adequate supply,” John Shiver, senior vice-president of Vaccines Global R&D at Sanofi pointed out in a March 23, 2020 post (1). He expressed confidence that industry is up to the task, saying, “If we can develop a safe and effective vaccine, the global pharmaceutical industry has the capacity to make and deliver it. [Sanofi] has the established capacity and infrastructure to make up to 600 million doses in two existing facilities based in New York and Pennsylvania, without compromising the supply of vaccines for other illnesses, including influenza. Other companies have similar capacity.” Furthermore, he noted, “Fighting an emerging pandemic is an enormous undertaking requiring the entire pharmaceutical ‘ecosystem’ to come together at pace and at a scale that are both extraordinary.”
Contract development and manufacturing organizations (CDMOs) are crucial components of this ecosystem for handling the expected surge of capacity needed for vaccines against COVID-19, and several have announced manufacturing agreements and capacity expansions.
Catalent, for example, has announced manufacturing agreements with COVID-19 vaccine candidate developers including Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen (2), Moderna (3), and AstraZeneca (4) to provide fill/finish capabilities. Catalent says it is working with more than 40 customers on COVID-related antivirals, vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments for symptoms and effects of COVID-19 (5). At the Catalent Biologics business unit’s facility in Bloomington, IN, the company reported that the scale-up in production would include the use of two new high-speed machines, including an Optima vial filling line and a Dividella NeoTOP 1604 top-load cartoner (2). The company is rapidly scaling segregated manufacturing capacity at the Bloomington facility to support dedicated production of Johnson & Johnson’s investigational vaccine candidate and plans to hire approximately 300 additional employees “to meet operational readiness and 24x7 manufacturing schedules by January 2021” (2).
The Bloomington facility is also being prepared to provide vial filling and packaging capacity for Moderna’s mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine candidate (mRNA-1273). Barrier isolator technology will be used for filling. The capacity and the staff for commercial-scale production expect to produce an initial 100 million doses of the vaccine candidate for the US market starting in the third quarter of 2020, and the companies are discussing fill/finish capacity for continued production of hundreds of millions of additional doses (3).
Catalent Biologics facility in Anagni, Italy is being prepared for commercial-scale vial filling and packaging for AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford’s adenovirus vector based COVID-19 vaccine candidate, AZD1222. The facility will be able to supply hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine candidate from August 2020, and potentially through to March 2022 should the product be approved by regulatory agencies, Catalent reported (4).
One of the funding sources for COVID-19 countermeasures is the US government, which is building a network of manufacturing partnerships through programs including Operation Warp Speed, which is a partnership among components of the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), FDA, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) (6). In addition to contracts with Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, and Moderna, in June 2020 HHS contracted with Emergent BioSolutions for manufacturing capacity, including an investment of approximately $85.5 million for the rapid expansion of the company’s viral and non-viral CDMO fill/finish capacity for vaccine and therapeutic manufacturing (7).
Operation Warp Speed is also investing in US domestic capacity for glass vials, with $204 million going to Corning to expand capacity for its Valor Glass vials, and for two more unconventional container types-$143 million to SiO2 Materials Science to increase capacity to produce the company’s glass-coated plastic containers and a $138 million contract with ApiJect to produce prefilled syringes using the blow-fill-seal process for plastic containers (6).
These announcements illustrate a piece of the global puzzle and the drive to increase capacity for the anticipated billions of doses of vaccine that will be produced, once approved.
1. Sanofi, “Sanofi Mobilizes to Develop a Vaccine against COVID-19,” Sanofi.com, March 23, 2020.
2. Catalent, “Catalent Signs Agreement with Johnson & Johnson to be US Manufacturing Partner for Lead COVID-19 Vaccine Candidate,” Press Release, April 29, 2020.
3. Catalent, “Moderna and Catalent Announce Collaboration for Fill-Finish Manufacturing of Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine Candidate,” Press Release, June 25, 2020.
4. Catalent, “Catalent Signs Agreement with AstraZeneca to Manufacture COVID-19 Vaccine Candidate,” Press Release, June 15, 2020.
5. Catalent, “Catalent COVID-19 Response,” Catalent.com, accessed July 9, 2020.
6. HHS, “Fact Sheet: Explaining Operation Warp Speed,” hhs.gov, June 16, 2020.
7. HHS, “HHS Adds $628 Million to Contract with Emergent BioSolutions to Secure CDMO Manufacturing Capacity for Operation Warp Speed,” Press Release, June 1, 2020.