Novavax enlists AGC Biologics to manufacture adjuvant for COVID-19 shot

Novavax is racing against some of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies in its COVID-19 vaccine effort, and the biotech has now brought on a partner to manufacture its adjuvant. 

The company enlisted Japanese contract development and manufacturing organization AGC Biologics to scale up and produce its Matrix-M adjuvant, a component of the novel coronavirus vaccine candidate NVX-CoV2373. The partners aim to deliver vaccine doses in 2020 and 2021, AGC says. 

AGC is working to “quickly” ramp up the adjuvant supply amid the pandemic, CEO Patricio Massera said in a statement, adding that the urgency “could not be higher.” 

Novavax has one of the 10 COVID-19 vaccines in human trials, and more than 120 others are in preclinical testing, according to a Tuesday update from the World Health Organization. The company has scored up to $384 million for its work from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and last month inked a $167 buyout to bolster its manufacturing capacity.

Other big players involved in the COVID-19 vaccine race are Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Sanofi and AstraZeneca. Moderna, a biotech that hasn't yet won approval for any of its therapies or vaccines, is also among frontrunners with late-stage trials planned this year. 

Aside from COVID-19, Novavax is also involved in research against RSV, Ebola and other diseases. The company hasn't yet scored any FDA approvals, but it's getting ready to file its flu vaccine, NanoFlu, after posting positive phase 3 data back in March. The flu vaccine also uses Novavax's Matrix-M adjuvant.

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The AGC Biologics tie-up comes right on the heels of the CDMO's purchase of a former AstraZeneca plant in Boulder, Colorado. AGC will begin commercial production there by April 2021. 

The site houses two 20,000-liter mammalian cell bioreactors, with room for up to four more for potential future expansions. Aside from that site, AGC is completing expansion projects in Seattle, Copenhagen and Chiba, Japan, by the end of 2021, the company says.