Amid COVID deal spree, Catalent plots Argentina manufacturing scale-up

Amid a slew of COVID-19 vaccine pacts, Catalent is looking to expand its manufacturing power to churn out more drugs for a wholly different set of diseases.

Set to go live in late 2021, a revamped site in Argentina will add capacity to make millions more doses of critical cancer drugs each year, bolstering supplies found on multiple country's shelves.

Somerset, New Jersey-based Catalent blueprinted the expansion for its site in the Loma Hermosa area of Buenos Aires, with plans to add 11,000-square-feet of production space to the 265,000-square-foot facility. The upgrade will equip the site to handle cytotoxic and highly active products for prescription softgel drug capsule manufacturing. 

Chief among those upgrades are two new manufacturing vessels, sized at 40 and 300 liters. Each comes equipped with an automatic cleaning system and mixing device for high viscosity drug formulations, Catalent said. The CDMO also plans to install a capsule filling line and six drying tunnels. All told, the upgrades will allow to drugmaker to gin up an additional 10 million doses per year at the plant, which supplies drugs to markets in the U.S., Latin America and Europe. 

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"This investment will allow the site to grow and handle a wider range of projects, reacting to the increased demands of the industry for high potency treatments in areas such as oncology,” said Sergio Alter, VP and general manager of softgel technologies, Latin America. 

Elsewhere, Catalent has made headlines through a number of high-profile COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing tie-ups. 

The CDMO got the ball rolling in late April with a stateside order from Johnson & Johnson to ramp up capacity at its 875,000-square-foot Bloomington, Indiana, site for fill-finish work on the Big Pharma's vaccine hopeful. Under the deal, Catalent agreed to bring 300 extra staffers into the fold starting in July, aiming to reach 24/7 production by January. 

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At the time, Catalent said it would lean on its network of sterile drug plants in Italy and Brussels for support, and in early July, Johnson & Johnson made it official, tapping the New Jersey-based CDMO to scale up production at its 305,000-square-foot Anagni, Italy, facility, for further shot finishing. 

Meanwhile, Catalent set aside space at its Anagni plant to complete finishing and packaging duties on AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford's adenovirus-based shot candidate, AZD1222, in mid-June. Starting this month, Catalent aims to help the British drug major crank out "hundreds of millions of doses" at its Italian facility, with the manufacturing team-up potentially extending through March 2022 if the AstraZeneca-Oxford shot passes muster in the clinic. 

Much like the original Johnson & Johnson team-up and the subsequent expansion of that contract last month, Catalent has kept mum on the financial terms of the AstraZeneca deal. 

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In late June, Catalent rounded out its trio of vaccine giant partnerships when it committed to fill-finish duties for up to 100 million doses of Moderna's mRNA-based coronavirus jab at the same Bloomington, Indiana, site where it will wrap up shots for Johnson & Johnson. As with most of Catalent's high-profile vaccine partnerships, the companies left options on the table to expand order volume post-approval. 

And before the COVID-19 pandemic snatched the attention of biopharmas the world over, Catalent sought to wade deeper into the gene therapy waters in February of this year. Early in the month, Catalent worked out a deal for $315 million to buy the Belgium-based cell and gene therapy CDMO Masthercell Global, which boasts operations in Europe and the U.S. If that deal closes in 2020's third quarter as planned, Catalent will absorb two Belgian plants and another in Houston, plus about 240 new employees.