Coronavirus: Europe becomes the world’s great factory for Covid-19 vaccines | Companies


Europe has become the world’s great factory where the various Covid-19 vaccines are made. The European Union, Switzerland and the United Kingdom currently host 61 industrial processes for these products spread over more than 50 plants. The laboratories promoting alternatives to the SARS-CoV-2 virus have thus opted for the already installed and new capacity of the pharmaceutical sector on the continent, which has also given security to the European Commission in the supply of the big contracts, except for the still unresolved controversy with AstraZeneca.

The 61 industrial activities of the different vaccines are centralized in 56 plants, as compiled Five days with the data provided by the European Commission. Of these centers, 47 are located within the EU, six in the UK and three in Switzerland. These are the facilities in which the companies with which the EC has signed supply contracts (the consortium Pfizer / BioNTech; Modern; AstraZeneca; Johnson & Johnson; CureVac, and Sanofi / GSK) or in advanced negotiations (Novavax and Valneva).

In Europe, 32 of these plants have the capacity to produce the necessary ingredients (antigens, nanolipids for messenger RNA and adjuvants) for vaccines, and 34 facilities handle the final formulation, finishing and filling process.

Last week, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, in charge of the EC’s coordination with the laboratories, had identified 52 production centers. Breton, according to community sources, “is promoting collaboration between manufacturers or encouraging them to deepen it in cases where it already existed” to gain industrial capacity.

There are no specific data on how many doses these plants can manufacture, but the numbers will be quite close to the known distribution and export figures. As reported last week Ursula Von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, in the first quarter, companies will have distributed 100 million doses (according to estimates) among the 27. Basically these vials are produced (at least finished in the formulation and filling stage) within the community territory.

In addition, until the end of March, the EU had exported 77 million doses to 33 countries. The Commission had also donated 31 million units to 54 nations through the Covax initiative to distribute among low-income countries.

“This shows that the EU is the region that exports the most vaccines in the world”, Stressed Von der Leyen last week at the virtual summit of European leaders. “The EU is proud to be home to vaccine producers who not only deliver to European citizens, but export all over the world,” he added.

Likewise, the manufacturing figure will increase as some of the plants identified by the EC are opened and vaccines that are still in the experimental phase are approved. Nor should we rule out new alliances between manufacturers with centers in Europe.

Along with Europe, the other major production pole is the United States, home to several of the large manufacturers and which authorized its vaccines a few weeks in advance with respect to the EU. This is the case with Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, which have enormous capacity in their home country. In fact, in this crisis due to the pandemic, the importance that the different governments have given to the presence of factories in their territories (with greater relevance if they are of national companies) has been seen to guarantee in some way the contracts and the supply, a strategy that has worked for Washington to advance rapidly in the pace of immunization.

Globally, Duke University estimates in a recent report that 16 manufacturers could produce 11.925 million injections to stop the pandemic until the end of the year.

The weight of Germany

In Europe, Germany ranks as the industrial engine in vaccines. Specifically, it participates in 17 of these activities, mainly thanks to the formulas of the German CureVac and the consortium of the American Pfizer and the German BioNTech, which produce Comirnaty, the first vaccine to be approved in the US and the EU.

In Germany, European giants such as Bayer, that will work for CureVac, or the French Sanofi, in this case collaborating with Pfizer / BioNTech (see graphic). These types of alliances have been consummated in recent months due to the need for companies to generate sufficient industrial capacity with which to respond to the fight against the pandemic. The world pharmaceutical employer, Ifpma, states that until the end of March 263 agreements have been signed between manufacturers with the aim of increasing production.

BioNTech factory in Marburg (Germany).
BioNTech factory in Marburg (Germany).

Another of the most active countries is France, since according to the data of the European Commission, it houses 10 plants of various companies that work for almost all the initiatives that have contracts with the Commission. Of particular relevance is Sanofi, a French multinational that produces vials for Johnson & Johnson, CureVac, Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna. Furthermore, this laboratory is one of those that must supply its own vaccine to Brussels, but unfortunately due to the pace of vaccination plans, the experimental candidate failed and its new formula is not expected before the end of the year.

Also of vital importance are the plants that work for AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and CureVac in the Netherlands, where the antigen that functions as the main ingredient for the vaccine is produced, which is then formulated and packaged in other centers. Precisely that of the firm Halix, supplier of AstraZeneca, has just received the approval of the European Medicines Agency to manufacture for the domestic market after the suspicions of Brussels that this plant was serving only for product destined for the United Kingdom .

In the case of the United Kingdom, the local company AstraZeneca has an enormous weight, with four factories of different partners (three of antigens), in addition to those of Novavax and Valneva.

In Italy, the Catalent plant, an American supplier company, in Anagni, where it operates for Sanofi / GSK, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, is relevant.

The British vaccine giant GSK also has a stake in different facilities, such as in Italy and France for its joint version with Sanofi, or in Belgium for CureVac. Likewise, another large multinational, the Swiss company Novartis, has joined the collaborations manufacturing for CureVac in Austria and for Pfizer / BioNTech in Switzerland.

The case of Spain

From Switzerland, the raw material, made by Lonza for Moderna, of the main vaccine currently exported from the country, which is formulated and packaged, reaches Spain. Rovi in San Sebastián de los Reyes. This Madrid laboratory ships Moderna vials all over the world, except for the US market.

Too Insud Filling has begun in Azuqueca de Henares (Guadalajara) for AstraZeneca. By the end of this quarter it is expected to be the case of Reig Jofre, which will do the packaging and packaging of the single-dose version of Johnson & Johnson in Sant Joan Despí (Barcelona), a vaccine that after being authorized by Brussels will begin to be distributed in the middle of this month.

Finally, the only antigen factory involved in the fight against the pandemic in Spain, due to the lack of such facilities in the country, is that of the group Zendal, through its subsidiary Biofabri in O Porriño. In this case, the ingredient goes to the Novavax filling factories, whose candidate has not yet been approved.

In the future, other options could come to Spain, since Zendal will work for the alternative of the CSIC directed by the researcher Mariano Esteban. And the version of the scientist Luis Enjuanes, also from the CSIC, will need industrial partner if it advances in its phase experimental preclinical.

The companies

For this quarter, the Von der Leyen Executive expects the supply of 360 million doses, of which the large shipment corresponds to the Pfizer / BioNTech consortium, which will deliver 200 million doses. It is precisely this vaccine that has the most industrial presence in Europe, in 17 different points. It is followed by products from CureVac (in 9 facilities), AstraZeneca (9), Novavax (8) and Sanofi (7).

This last American company will contribute 55 million doses for the first time until June and Moderna another 35 million. In the case of AstraZeneca, the Community Executive cuts its forecast from 180 million to 70 million units.

The power to block exports

Brussels has promoted a mechanism to control – and block if necessary – the vaccines that are exported outside the EU territory. In addition, it has imposed the criteria of reciprocity (that the country to which the batch is going can also supply the EU) and proportionality (that the rate of vaccination and epidemiological data of that country is taken into account). “We invite other countries to coincide in our opening,” Ursula Von der Leyen claimed last week. The president of the Commission thus made a veiled reference to the conflict with AstraZeneca and the United Kingdom, since Brussels suspects that the British has given priority to shipments to the islands over the supply at 27. The company, in fact, has failed to comply with its obligations to deliveries with the EC while it has continued to export to London and without the opposite direction in the shipments has worked.

Other countries are also large manufacturers beyond Europe and the US, specifically India and China. AstraZeneca, for example, has an agreement with India’s Serum (the world’s largest vaccine producer) to produce 1 billion doses. Similarly, Beijing has the firms Sinopharm, which is planning to produce 1,000 million injections, and Cansino (500 million). Other initiatives stand out, such as the Russian Sputnik V, of which 390 million are expected.

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