Pfizer makes $120M domestic manufacturing play to shore up COVID antiviral supply

Two years into the pandemic, COVID-19’s potential to fuel domestic drug manufacturing hasn’t faded.

Take Pfizer’s new $120 million investment, for example. The company on Monday said it’s plugging the cash into its Kalamazoo, Michigan, plant—the Big Pharma’s largest manufacturing facility—to bolster production of its oral COVID-19 antiviral Paxlovid, also known as nirmatrelvir and ritonavir tablets.

The move is set to create more than 250 jobs at the Kalamazoo campus, which marks “another major step” in Pfizer’s bid to “bring more key biopharmaceutical manufacturing to the U.S.,” the company said in a release.

Pfizer’s announcement confirms last month’s rumblings that the company would be upgrading its Kalamazoo site to support Paxlovid’s rollout, which was first reported by Michigan-based news outlet MLive.

Now, Pfizer is sharing details about the exact stages of Paxlovid manufacturing it plans to tackle at the Michigan site. Specifically, the project will expand active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) production, plus that of registered starting materials used to make the novel main protease inhibitor nirmatrelvir, the company said.

Registered starting materials are the raw materials that are chemically converted into APIs, Pfizer explained in its release.

As of Monday, Pfizer says it’s shipped 12 million Paxlovid courses across 37 countries, including 5 million courses in the U.S. The company has cranked out nearly 17 million Paxlovid treatment courses total.

Pfizer expects the upgrades in Kalamazoo to increase capacity to meet global demand. Further, the expansion is set to solidify the plant’s position as one of the “world’s largest producers of API, with the capacity to produce 1,200 metric tons annually,” Pfizer said.

Meanwhile, the company isn’t stopping at APIs. Also in Kalamazoo, Pfizer eventually plans to expand its modular asceptic processing (MAP) sterile injectables production plant. That upgrade builds on an initial $450 million MAP facility investment to stand up a 400,000-square-foot production facility.

The new MAP factory will leverage VR training, robotics and the latest in isolator-based tech, which promises to keep products safe from contamination, David Breen, Pfizer’s Kalamazoo site lead, told Fierce Pharma earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Pfizer's Paxlovid scored a recent boost courtesy of the federal government, which in April bought 20 million courses of the treatment and pledged to work with Pfizer to increase production and supply of the pills.

Pfizer expects Paxlovid sales of around $22 billion this year. Paxlovid launched in the U.S. in December 2021 and generated $1.5 billion in sales for the first three months of 2022, Pfizer said earlier this year.

Elsewhere on the domestic manufacturing front, Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly recently said it was laying out a whopping $2.1 billion to build two new manufacturing sites in its home state of Indiana. The facilities are expected to broaden Lilly’s manufacturing network for active ingredients plus new modalities like genetic medicines, the company said late last month.