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



A blood sample was prepared for analysis by a laboratory technician at Accel Research Sites on August 4, 2020 in DeLand, Florida, USA

NurPhoto | NurPhoto | Getty images

Moderna’s announcement earlier this week that its vaccine was more than 94% effective in preventing the coronavirus, according to preliminary data from the study, raised further global hopes that a resolution could be seen on the pandemic that killed more than 1

, 3 million

The news was followed by equally positive news from Pfizer and BioNTech that their vaccine candidate was over 90% effective. The Moderna news was hailed as a “game for change”, and Pfizer’s CEO described the vaccine’s achievements as “a great day for science and humanity”.

As the news movement continued, attention quickly shifted to practical issues, given the unprecedented logistical challenge posed by the production and distribution of vaccines, if they receive final regulatory approval, for a population of around 7 billion people worldwide.

Vaccines must be produced and transported under specific (and cold) conditions, otherwise they may be made ineffective; this is a huge challenge for global drug manufacturers in terms of vaccine distribution.

Swiss drugmaker Lonza has partnered with Moderna and says it aims to produce 400 million doses of the vaccine a year. The American company is aiming for 500 million to 1 billion doses in total for 2021. Everyone who receives the vaccine will need two doses, as with the Pfizer shot, which shows how long it can take with current international vaccination production capacity.

Lonza will produce ingredients in Moderna’s vaccine, officially called mRNA-1273, at facilities in the United States and Switzerland, where it is headquartered. The company’s chairman, Albert Baeni, told CNBC about the “big challenges” facing drug manufacturers like his when it comes to increasing production.

“We can only produce more than 500 million doses a year if we install additional production 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 told CNBC. “Squawk Box Europe” on Wednesday.

Baehny has identified more challenges for the vaccine industry that the company has had to face since starting its partnership with Moderna.

“There are several problems, the first is speed. We only started 10, 11 months ago and now we are producing the first commercial batches of the drug in North America and we are planning the first batch of commercial volume in one or more two weeks in Switzerland, so speed was a challenge. “

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

“Then related to the speed (problem), you have to have access to the equipment, install the equipment and then test your production facility so that (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.

The Pfizer vaccine requires a storage temperature of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit or -70 degrees Celsius. By comparison, Moderna said Monday that its vaccine remains stable at 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit – the temperature of a regular 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,” Baeni said. “So I don’t see a lot of problems with the distribution, transportation and storage of the Modern vaccine,” he said.


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