4 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses? It's possible, CEPI official tells Reuters

As dozens of COVID-19 vaccines race ahead at record speeds, industry watchers have raised concerns over the resources needed for a massive immunization push. Behind the scenes, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) is laying the groundwork for the production and distribution of billions of doses, an official told Reuters.

The group, a partnership between more than a dozen governments and global nonprofits, aims for 2 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of 2021 as a “minimum target,” CEPI manufacturing expert James Robinson told the news service. He believes 4 billion doses, a much more ambitious target, is achievable.

As drugmakers, academics and others advance more than 140 COVID-19 vaccine candidates, CEPI has taken initial steps with 200 companies to explore ramping up production, Reuters reports. The coalition aims to make two or three plants available for each leading candidate and additionally plans to establish eight to 10 regional distribution sites around the globe.  

Those goals have led CEPI into a massive “matchmaking” effort, Robinson told Reuters, where the group is pairing drug companies’ manufacturing abilities with the requirements for leading vaccines. It's easier to secure access for vaccines using traditional platforms, he added. Production lines for many of the newer technologies have to be "built from scratch."

At the same time, the group wants to ensure the effort doesn’t disrupt production of other critical vaccines. Aside from its manufacturing efforts, CEPI has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into helping COVID-19 vaccine developers move their programs forward. Inovio, Moderna and AstraZeneca are among its partners.

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CEPI's scale-up work comes as COVID-19 vaccine front-runners from Moderna and AstraZeneca prepare for phase 3 trials, with emergency approvals possible at the end of 2020 or early next year. As the candidates move forward, AstraZeneca has inked numerous partnerships to prepare for a manufacturing scale-up, and Moderna teamed up with Lonza in an effort to produce up to a billion doses per year.

Those companies aren't alone, of course. Much of Big Pharma is involved in the COVID-19 vaccine hunt, and many of the drugmakers have planned out manufacturing steps even as the programs move through clinical testing.