Emergent, amid gung-ho COVID-19 production push, eyes upgrade to Canadian vaccine plant: report

Novavax is one of the few COVID-19 vaccine players to pledge production capacity in Canada so far. (Simon Lehmann/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Emergent BioSolutions quickly positioned itself as one of the manufacturers to beat in the U.S. fight against COVID-19. Now, the company's laying out plans to upgrade a vaccine facility in Winnipeg—with the help of the Canadian government.

Emergent is in talks with Ottawa to fund an expansion of that plant, The Globe and Mail reports. The facility, which employs around 350, is equipped to handle the final manufacturing stages for mRNA, mammalian and microbial drugs—including mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines like those sold by Pfizer and Moderna.

The CDMO's Winnipeg plant performs product formulation and fill-finish services, though it doesn't produce drug substance, the news outlet said. Emergent has already pledged current formulation and fill-finish capacity at the plant to local drugmaker Providence Therapeutics, plugging away on an mRNA-based vaccine.

RELATED: Emergent, partnered with COVID-19 vaccine players J&J and AstraZeneca, works 24/7 to scale up doses

The goal is to expand capacity to draw in major COVID-19 players, Canadian Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne told the Globe. If Emergent can gin up capacity for 100 million doses annually in the region, drugmakers might consider moving production there, Champaign figures. The move wouldn't do much for the country's current vaccine rollout, but it could aid future campaigns, he said.

As it stands, Emergent can turn out more than one million multidose vials a month from its Canadian plant, Syed Husain, head of the company's CDMO business, told The Globe.

Emergent didn't immediately reply to Fierce Pharma's request for comment.

Canada has approved vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, but none of those shots is produced locally, putting the country at the mercy of external supply chains. 

It has found some local manufacturing support by way of Novavax. Canada hasn't yet approved the drugmaker's phase 3 shot, though Novavax has agreed to start production in-country by late 2021 or early 2022.

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Meanwhile, Canada and Europe were both hit by a surprise supply squeeze from Pfizer in January, when the company revealed a factory upgrade in Puurs, Belgium, would cause early deliveries to come in light. AstraZeneca has suffered well-publicized supply issues in Europe and Canada as well.

Stateside, Emergent is plowing ahead on a five-year work order to produce Johnson & Johnson's newly authorized vaccine from its Baltimore Bayview plant. It's also working on AstraZeneca's non-U.S. approved adenovirus vaccine at the same facility. 

The CDMO in June won a whopping $628 million government contract to help scale up production of COVID-19 vaccines. Officials earmarked around $542 million for bulk manufacturing capacity at Emergent’s Bayview facility, while the remaining $85.5 million was intended to boost fill/finish capacity at plants in Baltimore and Rockville, Maryland.

Alongside equipment and material ramp-ups, the company hired 800 new employees in 2020 to carry its manufacturing work forward, Sean Kirk, EVP of manufacturing and technical operations, said in a recent interview.