AstraZeneca teams with IDT Biologika to speed coronavirus vaccine output in EU

AstraZeneca is teaming up with German CDMO IDT Biologika to quickly speed output of finished COVID-19 vaccine doses. And their pact doesn't stop with this pandemic.

To address Europe's "immediate vaccination needs during the pandemic," the companies agreed to work together to speed output of finished AZ doses by the second quarter of this year, AstraZeneca said Wednesday.

Their newly expanded deal has a broader goal as well—helping secure "Europe’s future vaccine supply independence"  through combined investments in new capacity at IDT Biologika's Dessau, Germany, manufacturing site.

While the exact details of the agreement are still in the works, the partners said the expansion will add up to five 2,000-liter bioreactors at the Dessau site, with capacity to crank out "tens of millions" of AstraZeneca doses per month. The project is expected to be up and running by the end of 2022. 

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The site could be used to produce other shots, too, AZ said—provided they share a similar manufacturing process to AstraZeneca's own pandemic prophylactic. When all is said and done, the companies expect the project to beef up Europe's vaccine production muscle and make IDT Biologika one of the largest vaccine producers in the bloc. 

AstraZeneca's University of Oxford-partnered COVID-19 vaccine bagged a green light from the European Medicines Agency in late January, but a very public beef with the European Union over reduced vaccine shipments has cast a shadow over its rollout.

A week before its European approval, multiple news outlets reported that AstraZeneca would deliver just 31 million vaccine does to the EU in the first quarter, down from a previously quoted supply of 100 million. 

The shortfalls came courtesy of "reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain," an AstraZeneca spokesperson told Fierce Pharma at the time. The company would aim to deliver "tens of millions" of doses to the EU in February and March as it continued to ramp up production volume, she said.

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AZ has since dialed up its first-quarter delivery forecast to 40 million doses, the Financial Times reports, and appears to be making good on its capacity pledge. 

Vaccine shipments started going out to the EU on February 5, as part of an initial 17 million doses the company aims to deliver over the next few weeks before more shots arrive in March, AstraZeneca said in a release.

RELATED: IDT Biologika opens vaccine manufacturing facility in Germany

AZ chief Pascal Soriot, for his part, remained bullish about AZ's vaccine production during the company's full-year 2020 earnings call. Alongside its partners, the company is cranking out 100 million doses per month and aims to double capacity to 200 doses by April.

The company is "not perfect, but doing great," he said, pointing out that the world was expecting hundreds of vaccine makers to offer shots, while the number currently stands at just six. The company needs more help and more people involved to deploy vaccines to most of the world's population, he added.