What are the “big challenges” of mass production of a coronavirus vaccine

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Moderna’s announcement earlier this week that its vaccine was over 94% effective in preventing coronavirus, according to data from preliminary trials, raised global hope that a resolution to the pandemic that has killed more than 1.3 million people could be in sight.The news follows equally positive news from Pfizer and BioNTech that their vaccine candidate was over 90% effective. The Moderna news was hailed as “a game changer” and the CEO of Pfizer described the vaccine’s achievement as “a great day for science and humanity”.

As the market rejoiced at the news, attention quickly turned to practical issues given the unprecedented logistical challenge posed by vaccine production and distribution, should they receive final regulatory approval, to a world population of around 7 billion people.

Vaccines must be produced and transported under specific (and cold) conditions otherwise they may be rendered ineffective; this poses a huge challenge to global drug manufacturers when it comes to vaccine distribution.

Swiss drug maker Lonza has teamed up with Moderna and says it aims to produce 400 million doses of the vaccine per year. The US firm is targeting 500 million to 1 billion doses in total for 2021. Anyone receiving the vaccine will need two doses, as with Pfizer’s vaccine, showing how long it could take, with current manufacturing capacity, to vaccinate internationally.

Lonza will produce the ingredients for Moderna’s vaccine, officially called mRNA-1273, at facilities in the United States and Switzerland, where it is headquartered. Company president Albert Baehny spoke to CNBC about the “big challenges” that drugmakers like his face when it comes to increasing production.

“We can only produce more than 500 million doses per year if we install additional manufacturing lines, so it is clear that we need additional investment in the installation if we want to produce more than 500 million (per year ) in the future, ”he said. CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” Wednesday.

Baehny identified other vaccine production challenges that the company has faced since starting its partnership with Moderna.

“There are a few issues, the first is speed. We started only 10, 11 months ago and now we are producing the first commercial batches of the drug substance in North America, and we are planning the first commercial volume batch in one or two weeks in Switzerland, so the speed has been a challenge. ”

“The second challenge is to find the people. For each production line you need 60 to 70 educated people. We have four manufacturing lines set up, so you need to identify and train these people, ”he said.

“Then linked to speed (problem), you have to have access to the equipment, install the equipment, then test your manufacturing plant, so (these are) big challenges, solved, or almost solved, in less than a year. ”

Another major challenge is the temperature and keeping the vaccines cold enough during transport.

Pfizer’s vaccine requires a storage temperature of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit or -70 degrees Celsius. By comparison, Moderna said on Monday that its vaccine remained stable between 36 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit – the temperature of a standard home or medical refrigerator – for up to 30 days. It can be stored for up to six months at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

“These are standard conditions in the pharmaceutical industry,” Baehny said. “So I don’t see a lot of problems with the distribution, shipping and storage of Moderna’s vaccine,” he said.

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