CureVac, Novartis team up in latest pandemic vaccine manufacturing collaboration

Novartis is gearing up to help CureVac with mRNA vaccine production. (Novartis)

CureVac has already attracted two Big Pharma partners for its COVID-19 vaccine work, and now Novartis is getting involved.

Tübingen, Germany-based CureVac and Novartis have signed an initial manufacturing agreement that’s expected to boost the mRNA biotech’s overall vaccine capacity by 50 million doses in 2021 and 200 million doses in 2022. The partners are prepping for technology transfers and test runs, and deliveries from Novartis’ site in Kundl, Austria, are expected to start this summer. Under the deal, Novartis is expected to produce mRNA and bulk drug product for the vaccine.

Novartis “is a pioneer and has decades of experience in pharmaceutical production of proteins and in more recent years of nucleic acids,” global head of technical operations Steffen Lang said in a statement. The company is building its mRNA capacity at its facility in Kundl to meet growing demand, he added.  

Novartis is the latest drugmaker to join CureVac’s European vaccine manufacturing network, which includes Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline and several other companies, the biotech said. Meanwhile, Novartis is also helping Pfizer and BioNTech with production of their rival mRNA shot.

RELATED: GSK inks deal to produce CureVac's COVID-19 vaccine—and develop a next-gen version, too

But while the Pfizer and BioNTech shot is already being distributed, CureVac’s candidate, CVnCoV, remains in clinical testing. The company started a phase 2/3 trial in December and has initiated a rolling review process with the European Medicines Agency.  

CureVac aims to produce 300 million doses in 2021 and up to 600 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine next year to fulfill a large European supply order. To reach that target, it has brought on several partners, including Bayer, which has never produced vaccines. GlaxoSmithKline is also helping produce 100 million doses and develop next-gen COVID-19 vaccines.  

RELATED: CureVac, armed with COVID-19 vaccine deal, plots 'pandemic-scale' Euro manufacturing expansion

Last year, when CureVac laid out its plan to produce hundreds of millions of doses with partners, the company said its network would “leverage expertise and capacity” in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Austria, with sites in other countries possibly getting involved. At the time, CureVac Chief Production Officer Florian von der Mülbe said "geographic proximity" was important to facilitate "alignment and technology transfers."

CureVac isn't alone in seeking outside assistance to produce hundreds of millions—or billions—of COVID-19 vaccine doses; the leading players are all outsourcing parts of their manufacturing work. For a detailed look at the efforts at Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, see Fierce Pharma's recent special report on COVID-19 vaccine supply chains.