CureVac, armed with COVID-19 vaccine deal, plots 'pandemic-scale' Euro manufacturing expansion

As Pfizer and Moderna dominate headlines with positive interim readouts for their COVID-19 vaccine candidates, other mRNA players are taking note. Germany's CureVac, hot on the heels of an EU supply deal—is boosting its manufacturing network to produce "pandemic-scale volumes" of its mRNA shot across the bloc. 

CureVac aims to produce 300 million doses of its vaccine, dubbed CVnCoV, in 2021 and up to 600 million doses in 2022, to meet what it expects to be greater demand given the early success of other mRNA vaccines, the company said Tuesday.

To get there, CureVac will bolster its supply chain by enlisting CDMOs to help with each key step of the manufacturing process for CVnCoV. Preparations to kick off production and initiate technology transfers are already underway, CureVac said. 

On Monday, CureVac locked in a deal to supply up to 405 million doses of its vaccine to Europe, Reuters reported. The bloc is set to authorize the deal Tuesday, which will see it receive 225 million initial doses, with the option to later purchase another 180 million. Financial details were not disclosed.

The biotech is poised to announce CDMO and supplier partnerships "over the coming weeks," with its sights set on "expertise and capacity" at home in Germany and from close neighbors including France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Austria. CureVac is also weighing options in Sweden, Poland, Italy and Ireland, it said.

"Geographic proximity is an important factor for facilitating alignment and technology transfers,” CureVac's Chief Production Officer Florian von der Mülbe said in a release. 

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CureVac has also started development on an additional large-scale production facility at its Tübingen headquarters with support from the European Investment Bank.

The company in July snared a nearly $85 million loan from the EU to expand its existing production suites and build a fourth production facility at its home base. The cash is being split into three $28.3 million tranches, paid out upon completion of certain milestones, CureVac said at the time. 

The biotech's shot entered phase 2a testing in Panama and Peru in September, but experts have raised concerns about side effects. Meanwhile, the shot is way behind mRNA competitors from Moderna and Pfizer and BioNTech, which have already read out interim phase 3 results.

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Despite running behind, CureVac could have an edge in storage—or at least that's what the biotech says. Last week, CureVac claimed its candidate could remain stable at refrigerator temperatures for up to three months and at room temp for upward of 24 hours.

Pfizer's candidate, on the other hand, must be stored and shipped at the ultra-cold temperature of minus 94° Fahrenheit (-70° Celsius). Moderna's vaccine must be kept at -4° Fahrenheit, though the Massachusetts-based biotech recently revealed the shot can last at fridge temps for up to 30 days and is stable for 12 hours at room temperature.

Pfizer, for its part, has laid out an ambitious distribution plan and is eyeing a powdered formulation for 2021 that could ease some of those logistical hurdles.