With production nixed at a Baltimore plant—and its shot’s role in the U.S. vaccination scheme uncertain—AstraZeneca may turn to one of its established pandemic manufacturing partners to crank out doses for the feds.
AstraZeneca is in talks with the U.S. to move COVID-19 vaccine production from Emergent BioSolutions’ Baltimore facility to another Maryland plant run by AZ’s partner Catalent, The New York Times reports, citing people close to the government’s plans.
Under the potential transfer, Catalent would retrofit a production line in Harmans, Maryland—where it already makes drug substance for AstraZeneca’s shot—to produce the vaccine for the federal government. The CDMO also tackles fill-finish work for AZ’s vaccine at a former Bristol Myers Squibb plant in Anagni, Italy.
The U.S., which last year committed up to $1.2 billion for the development and production of AstraZeneca’s shot, is renegotiating its contract with the British pharma in part to facilitate the production switch, an unnamed federal official told the NYT.
The new line could produce some 25 million to 35 million doses a month, similar to what was expected from Emergent, the official said. It’s unclear when production could start on the new line.
“We can confirm we are working with Catalent but have not disclosed specific details on supply,” an AstraZeneca spokeswoman told NYT.
AstraZeneca and Catalent did not immediately reply to Fierce Pharma’s request for comment.
AstraZeneca previously pledged 300 million doses of its vaccine to the U.S., though it’s yet to apply for an emergency use authorization. With enough shots on tap from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, it’s unclear whether AZ’s vaccine still has much of a role to play stateside.
While some experts have raised concerns that U.S. production of AstraZeneca's shot could strain supplies needed overseas or for other vaccines, federal officials say the vaccine could still have some use as a booster—if it's approved and follow-up shots are deemed necessary, NYT reports.
Meanwhile, the AZ vaccine is becoming a fixture of President Joe Biden's efforts to supply excess doses to other countries.
Biden in April pledged to share 60 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, later expanding the plan to cover another 20 million doses, including the shots cleared for emergency use in the U.S. Within the next two weeks, the U.S. aims to announce how it will distribute those 80 million doses, Reuters reported Wednesday, citing U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
AstraZeneca, for its part, went on the hunt for new U.S. manufacturing capacity in April after the government put Johnson & Johnson in charge of Emergent’s Baltimore facility, where a manufacturing flub forced workers to discard a vaccine batch that contained up to 15 million J&J doses. Production there has since been halted completely.