Johnson & Johnson signs on Michigan's Grand River to help with COVID-19 vaccine finishing work

J&J
((Raysonho/CC0)) Johnson & Johnson moved its COVID-19 vaccine into phase 3 human testing last week. (J&J)

With all eyes on the hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine, drugmakers like New Jersey's Johnson & Johnson are scouring the market for manufacturing partners to help meet what would be global demand for their shots. With a couple already in hand, J&J is now turning to a Michigan CDMO to help keep up. 

Johnson & Johnson has partnered with Michigan's Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing (GRAM) to handle fill-finish duties for the New Jersey drugmaker's recombinant COVID-19 vaccine, the partners said last week. 

Backed by a federal contract secured in August, GRAM will produce up to 100 million doses of J&J's shot at its 60,000-square-foot Grand Rapids, Michigan, facility for the U.S. strategic reserve, the company said. 

In June, GRAM finished a $60 million expansion to install a "large-scale" fill-finish injectables facility with the plan to market it to U.S. drugmakers like J&J. The 60,000-square-foot facility included in that expansion tripled GRAM's manufacturing footprint to more than 100,000 square feet of production space and helped level up the company's sterile injectables offerings.

The injectables plant tapped for J&J's contract is GRAM's third, the company said, and its fifth manufacturing facility overall.

RELATED: With calls for American-made drugs on the rise, a Michigan CDMO is scaling up to meet demand

The CDMO's strategic plan to market its manufacturing prowess to "onshoring" drugmakers has paid off with its deal with J&J, which is looking to ramp up production partners for what would be global demand for its vaccine if it receives regulatory approval.

The vaccine, dubbed Ad26.COV2.S, entered phase 3 human testing last week, and J&J is aiming to manufacture 1 billion doses per year starting in 2021. In early August, J&J pledged 100 million doses of its shot to the U.S. for $1 billion—or $10 per dose.

RELATED: J&J sews up 5 years of coronavirus vaccine supply in $480M-plus deal with Emergent

Back in July, J&J and Maryland CDMO Emergent BioSolutions signed a five-year supply pact for drug substance manufacturing at a starting price tag of $480 million.

Emergent agreed to provide "large-scale" drug substance manufacturing for J&J's shot beginning in 2021, starting with a $480 million order for the first two years of the deal. For the final three years, the partners will use a "flexible capacity deployment model" to provide annual batches as needed, Emergent said at the time.

In April, J&J signed a similar agreement with New Jersey-based CDMO Catalent to reserve space at its Bloomington, Indiana, facility for large-scale manufacturing. Catalent pledged to ramp up production at the 875,000-square-foot Bloomington facility and planned to hire an additional 300 workers at the plant beginning in July with the goal of reaching a 24/7 manufacturing schedule by January.

The partners later expanded their deal in July to include fill-finish work at Catalent's Anagni, Italy, site.

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