- WuXi Biologics says it signed a letter of intent with a "global vaccine leader" to build a dedicated manufacturing facility that will supply 100% of one of its partner's vaccines.
- The 20-year contract is worth more than $3 billion, WuXi said in a May 20 statement, without naming its partner.
- The Chinese company’s deal to exclusively manufacture a vaccine globally represents a first in the industry, WuXi said. The dedicated facility will include drug substance and product manufacturing, as well as quality control labs.
The letter of intent represents the next big step in WuXi’s push to become a major player in the contract development and manufacturing of vaccines. Last July, the company entered an agreement to establish WuXi Vaccines, a joint venture with Shanghai Hile Bio-Technology. It is that joint venture which will build the new facility.
Vaccine contract development and manufacturing "is one of the next growth areas for WuXi Biologics," CEO Chris Chen said in the May 20 statement. "Once this project is initiated, our vaccine business will contribute substantially to the growth of WuXi Biologics."
In late 2018, the Hong Kong-listed company also announced a collaboration with Switzerland’s AC Immune SA, which made WuXi Biologics the preferred partner for bioprocess development and manufacturing. A few weeks later, Chen told the South Morning Post that WuXi Biologics was in talks with three vaccine makers to manufacture products in China.
Those moves came after a flurry of manufacturing deals in 2018 that expanded the company’s presence in the biotechnology market.
A spokesperson for WuXi said its latest partner won't be disclosed at this time. One of the world’s biggest vaccine makers, Sanofi, said it isn't involved in the WuXi deal. Another major player, Merck & Co., declined to comment. Meanwhile, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline — which each have large vaccine businesses — didn’t immediately reply to BioPharma Dive requests for comment.
Vaccine companies themselves have been strengthening their own manufacturing and supply operations. In December, Johnson & Johnson and Merck backed a new dedicated vaccine plant in the U.K. In April, GSK said it will spend $100 million to expand capacity at a Montana vaccine manufacturing site. And earlier this month, Merck said it is ramping up manufacturing for measles vaccines.
That there are only a handful of large players in the vaccine space underscores how production can be a tricky process, with complicated handling of biological substances and the need for constant quality control. In the past year, widely publicized vaccine shortages included GSK’s Shingrix shingles vaccine.
Chen of WuXi Biologics said the company's latest deal is a testament to the "technical strengths and premier quality demonstrated by WuXi Biologics."