Supply concerns prompt EU vaccine industry to pursue domestic relaxations

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In front of the vaccination center at Merck’s factory in Darmstadt, Germany, employees of the pharmaceutical and chemical group Merck KGaA launch a project involving doctors from a company that supports state vaccination campaigns against the coronavirus disease. I’m waiting for you (COVID-19 (new coronavirus infection). REUTERS via Arne Dedart / Poole

September 17, 2021

Ludwig Berger and Patricia Weiss

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – European companies playing a key supporting role in COVID-19 vaccine production are working to bring production and supply chains closer to their customers to prevent trade restrictions that have disrupted supplies during the pandemic. Growth.

Germany’s Merck KGaA, whose life sciences sector is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of bioreactor gear and consumables, has expanded its production network geographically to Reuters for shipments that need to cross customs borders. can be reduced. He said that he is preaching what to do.

US regulations, particularly those that give priority to companies that fulfill contracts with the US government, are a challenge for Merck as they seek to meet increased demand for supplies such as sterile fermented bags and filters.

However, the United States is not the only country engaged in a country called vaccine nationalism. India banned exports of the vaccine in mid-April and focused on promoting home vaccination as infections spread across the country and vaccination plans were disrupted in several African and South Asian countries.

Following a reduction in production at AstraZeneca earlier this year, the EU has implemented an export monitoring scheme, accusing the UK of withholding the quantity of a COVID-19 vaccine to be shared with the EU. needed.

“All the positive decisions we’ve made have integrated geographic aspects,” CEO Beren Garriho told Reuters. “The trade barriers we have seen, we have strengthened global diversification whenever given opportunity,” he said.

At Rentsler Biopharma SE, a German consignment maker of a major pharmaceutical company that supports the production of CureVac’s COVID-19 vaccine candidates, the pandemic has begun a review of its procurement routes.

“The coronavirus crisis has become a significant impetus to make our supply chains more accessible. We have decided to buy most of our equipment in Europe because we are no longer dependent on the United States,” Bioreactor said. Take sterile bags for use as an example, says CEO Frank Mathias. He did not appoint a supplier.

Mathias said the supply chain collapsed earlier this year when the United States ordered domestic vaccine producers a certain amount.

The US Defense Production Act, along with a rated ordering system that prioritizes US crisis response, also constrained Merck’s ability to serve vaccine manufacturers elsewhere in the world.

In response, Merck in March announced plans to invest €25 million in France to produce disposable plastic materials for bioreactors, an essential input for the production of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Merck’s first such facility in Europe, the new site, is expected to go live in late 2021 and will be added to similar production lines in the United States and China.

It was then advertised in December to invest $47 million in US facilities in Massachusetts and New Hampshire to boost global production to meet unprecedented demand.

“The pandemic was a wake-up call,” Merck’s Garriho said. “We need a global footprint to be able to address potential trade barriers.”

Family-owned Merck also manufactures drugs and chemicals for semiconductor manufacturing, but the life science division is made up of companies formerly known as Millipore and Sigma-Aldrich, making them the main revenue driver. it has become.

Competitors include Thermo Fisher, Danaher and Sartorius.

In another step to avoid the effects of long transport routes and international controversy, German family-owned vaccine maker IDT Biologica jointly launched AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine with Sweden earlier this year. It has announced plans to invest more than 100 million euros to build it. pharmaceutical company.

The production line, which is currently scheduled to go live in 2023, is designed to accommodate the Astra shot or other vaccines of the same viral vector class in doses of at least 360 million doses per year.

IDT manufactures, blends, bottles and packs the active ingredients, bringing the now widely dispersed manufacturing steps into one place.

IDT said the project is on track, but declined to comment further. The company said the German federal health ministry supported the project, but the investment was not subsidized.

Merck CEO Gariho warned that rebuilding the pharmaceutical sector’s production network, which for decades has relied on cross-border exchanges and international division of labor, can only be done in phases.

“You cannot move a factory from one day to another. It takes time,” she said.

(Reporting by Ludwig Berger and Patricia Weiss; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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