Univercells inks deal to produce prefabricated vaccine facilities for potential COVID-19 shot

Manufacturing capacity has become a serious sticking point for drugmakers on the hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine as more industry insiders cast doubt on the supply chain's strength. But Belgian manufacturing specialist Univercells believes prefabricated vaccine facilities could help production scale up quickly.

The company has partnered with German construction firm Excyte to produce prefab facilities that "will enable rapid mass production and shortened time-to-market" for potential COVID-19 vaccines, the companies said Thursday.

The partnership will provide COVID-19 vaccine makers "automated, cost-effective production" of vector-based shots, Univercells said. The ready-made facilities will also cut down on the cost for drugmakers to commission and build their own manufacturing plants, the company said.

The agreement comes as one potential answer to concerns that the manufacturing of a potential COVID-19 vaccine cannot meet expected global demand.

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Earlier this week, Regeneron CEO Len Schleifer told CNN that manufacturing capacity for a COVID-19 vaccine or therapy was "limited" despite adequate distribution channels.

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel largely echoed those concerns in a CNBC virtual conference, saying he is rooting for “three, four, five vaccines” against COVID-19 to succeed “because no manufacturer can make enough doses for the planet.”

RELATED: Regeneron CEO: Manufacturing not up to snuff for COVID-19 vaccines, therapies

Moderna recently agreed to a 10-year supply partnership with Lonza aiming to produce up to 1 billion doses of its mRNA vaccine candidate per year.

Meanwhile, drugmakers across the board are aiming to boost their manufacturing capacity to help alleviate some of that expected production bottleneck.

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Pfizer, which is developing a candidate with partner BioNTech, said earlier this week that it was considering outsourcing production of some its drug portfolio to make way for a massive COVID-19 vaccine effort in the coming months. The drugmaker will lean on its 200-strong network of contractors as part of a plan to "build a robust U.S.-based supply chain as well as one based in Europe," a Pfizer spokesperson said.

Johnson & Johnson, meanwhile, struck multiple manufacturing deals to hit its own billion-dose goal, including with Emergent BioSolutions and Catalent. AstraZeneca, in parallel, has signed on to produce and distribute vaccines for the University of Oxford's promising program, which is speeding ahead.