J&J's COVID-19 vaccine maker in South Africa opens line for anesthetics: report

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Aspen Pharmacare's addition of anesthetic production is part of its move into the sterile injection market and away from making active pharmaceutical ingredients. (Nastco/GettyImages)

South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare is expanding the manufacturing line at the plant where it currently fills and finishes Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine to include anesthetic drugs.

The added line is projected to earn the company an additional $542 million a year, Bloomberg reported.

The addition is part of the company’s move away from making active pharmaceutical ingredients into the sterile injection market, which has seen global demand soar during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This facility will help ensure no African is ever denied these treatments like anesthetics and vaccines again,” Stephen Saad, Aspen’s chief executive, said during a news conference. “We thank J&J for giving us the capability to create our own manufacturing facilities, (and) we’ve been able to produce vaccines in Africa and now to also bring anesthetics home.”

The company is currently evaluating a pair of offers for its active pharmaceutical ingredient business, Bloomberg reported. Aspen recently sold most of its heparin business as part of a plan to reduce debt.

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J&J and Aspen joined forces last year to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines for use in African Union member states. For its part, Aspen tooled its South African plant with the help of $200 million from the U.S. in July to accommodate the “fill and finish” leg of the process.

However, when J&J ran into issues at the troubled Emergent BioSolutions facility in Baltimore earlier this year, Aspen said some of the bulk substance from that plant had to be thrown out because of potential contamination, delaying deliveries.