- Novartis will help Pfizer and BioNTech boost the global supply of their coronavirus shot and plans to soon sign similar agreements with makers of other vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, the Swiss drugmaker announced Friday.
- Novartis will use its manufacturing site in Stein, Switzerland to fill vaccine vials and ship them back to BioNTech for distribution around the world. Subject to a final deal, production would begin in the second quarter, with the first shipment expected immediately afterwards. Novartis didn't disclose how many doses it hopes to add to Pfizer and BioNTech's total capacity.
- The announcement comes three days after Sanofi announced a similar deal with Pfizer and BioNTech and reflects the pressure to quickly ramp up supply of vaccines already proven effective. Novartis said it's also in talks with "a number of additional companies" to help make raw materials and drug ingredients used in coronavirus vaccines and drugs.
With the arrival of several coronavirus vaccines and COVID-19 drugs, the pharmaceutical industry has begun to split into two camps: those at the forefront of development, and those who are helping in other ways.
Earlier this week, for instance, Sanofi said it would use a German manufacturing plant to help Pfizer and BioNTech make at least 125 million doses of their vaccine. That announcement followed a setback for one of two vaccines the French drugmaker is developing, and represented an uncommon alliance between companies that would typically be competitors.
While Novartis is helping develop an experimental vaccine from Massachusetts Eye and Ear Hospital, its effort is less advanced. A pair of COVID-19 protein drugs it's researching are similarly in early stages. So in parallel, the company, like Sanofi, will also support production of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine.
In each case, the deals are indicative of the urgency with which companies are attempting to scale up production of existing coronavirus shots. New, more transmissible variants are spreading across the globe, and some of them appear to diminish vaccine potency, making rapid immunization even more critical to the world's response to the pandemic.
Supplies of currently authorized shots are limited, though, even as new study results this week show vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson and Novavax are also protective against COVID-19. Those vaccines, if approved, will provide valuable reinforcements but still won't be enough in the short term for countries to immunize most of their populations.
Other companies could lend further manufacturing assistance. A report Thursday from Bloomberg, which first reported the Novartis talks, indicated German pharma Merck KGaA may also help Pfizer and BioNTech make more vaccine doses.
And Novartis has hinted that it has several deals in the works to take on the manufacturing of synthetic messenger RNA — the genetic material used in both Moderna's vaccine and Pfizer and BioNTech's — as well as therapeutic proteins, and raw materials used in vaccines and other drugs.
"[W]e are committed to leverage our manufacturing capabilities to help support the supply of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics around the world," said Steffen Lang, head of Novartis Technical Operations, in a statement. "We expect this to be the first of a number of such agreements."