As COVID-19 demand surges, BD blueprints $1.2B expansion to jack up prefilled syringe output by 50%

Becton Dickinson masterminded the prefillable syringe, and decades later, it's a technology key to the global COVID-19 vaccine rollout. And with pandemic demand surging, BD is planning to shell out $1.2 billion to expand that very business.

The pricey project will boost BD's manufacturing capacity and upgrade production technology for prefillable syringes and advanced drug delivery systems, the company said in a release.

BD will add a new manufacturing facility in Europe, expected to come online by the end of 2023, and divvy up the remainder of the investment among six of the company's existing sites. The company is keeping details on the location and size of the European facility close to the vest for now, a BD spokesperson said in an email. 

The new facility, plus the expansions at BD's existing facilities—in Columbus, Nebraska; Cuautitlán, Mexico; Fukishima, Japan; Le Pont-de-Claix, France; Swindon, U.K.; and Tatabánya, Hungary—will increase prefilled syringe capacity by more than 50%, the spokesperson said.

As it stands, BD cranks out "multiple billions" of prefilled syringes annually, he said, though it doesn't disclose its exact capacity. 

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The extra cash will help fuel development of advanced drug delivery products, too, such as BD's Libertas wearable injector, which in February passed muster in a phase 1 trial. And the capacity boosts will enable the company to manufacture specific categories of devices at multiple facilities—a "dual sourcing" approach that can help smooth operations during periods of high demand, the spokesperson said. 

"[T]his investment positions BD to have the needed surge capacity for increased pre-fillable syringe demand during times of pandemic response or periods of significant growth of new injectable drugs and vaccines,” Eric Borin, worldwide president of BD Pharmaceutical Systems, said in a release.

By the time the project wraps, BD expects to have hired roughly 1,000 new employees across its newly expanded sites and its brand-new facility in Europe. 

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While the company’s latest manufacturing upgrade will take some time to complete, BD has already forged a number of pacts this year to support the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

In July, the company teamed up with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) on a $70 million project to boost needle and syringe manufacturing operations and capacity in Nebraska. Simultaneously, BD finalized an initial order for 50 million needles and syringes pegged for delivery to the U.S. by the end of December.

Hot on the heels of that agreement, the U.S. nearly quadrupled its order, purchasing an additional 140 million injection devices from BD, bringing its total up to 190 million. At the same time, Canada bumped up its order from 38 million devices to 75 million.

At the time, BD said a majority of the international orders it’s received, including a deal for more than 100 million from the U.K., are slated for delivery before year-end—part of a bid to position injectors ahead of an expected vaccine authorization later this month or early next year. The need for those devices could be more important than ever in the U.K., which just this week became the first Western country to authorize a COVID-19 vaccine.