Daria Donati

Before the COVID-19 outbreak went global, Cytiva’s Daria Donati went back to her roots in vaccine development and infectious disease. (Cytiva)

Daria Donati
Head of Business Development and Strategic Technology Partnerships, Cytiva

Long before the pandemic hit, Daria Donati was acutely aware of the challenges vaccine developers face. In the best of cases, it can take a decade, and even then, certain diseases like malaria and HIV remain elusive targets.

But if developing a vaccine is tough, manufacturing can be just as difficult, albeit in different ways. And as COVID-19 emerged in China, Donati knew that after the rush to development, the biggest challenge vaccine players would face is manufacturing—both on a clinical and global scale.

And that's where Donati and Cytiva have pitched in since, with a slew of collaborations designed to help carry vaccine makers’ work from the planning stages to the clinic, and ultimately, the world’s population.

In her role at the biopharma manufacturing business, which was divested from GE Healthcare in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, Donati fosters those partnerships and identifies new technologies to accelerate the manufacturing process. And as a board member at the U.K.'s Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC), Donati has been using her public health background to inform decisions about national pandemic response.  

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Now, the company has a stake—at some stage—in “most” of the leading vaccine programs in the works, Donati said. It’s also been tracking vaccine development projects week-by-week, stepping in the moment shot makers are ready to move to the critical manufacturing stage.

Early in the pandemic, Cytiva swooped in to lend its support to the University of Queensland in Australia, working on a spike-protein targeted vaccine. Initially helping the university with manufacturing process development—a step that doesn’t often receive due credit, Donati thinks—Cytiva is also on call to aid with production should the shot pass muster in the clinic.

The company is also working with Takara Bio on a plasmid vaccine and Entos Pharmaceuticals on a downstream purification method for protein-based shots, among other partnerships.

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Cytiva knew from the start that it was in a position to help, she added, but understood it wouldn’t be up to the task alone. “Our job is not only to provide tools, but we’ve also been working as a matchmaker,” Donati said. “We were able to bring together developers, manufacturers, organizations, CDMOs.”

“The pandemic really broke the barriers of collaboration between government agencies, NGOs, and industry players,” Donati said.

Meanwhile, Cytiva—and Donati herself—in 2018 played a foundational role in the U.K.’s Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre, long before the pandemic touched down. When the call from Innovate U.K. came out, Cytiva got together with partners like the University of Oxford, Johnson & Johnson and Merck & Co. to form a consortium, she said.

Their goal?” [To] bring together the key knowledge that each partner could bring to the table. Universities with key developments; Cytiva with tools and innovation in the purification and expansion area; and then J&J and Merck with the fact they already had some vaccines in their portfolio, and they of course had knowledge as well on how to bring a vaccine to the market,” Donati explained.

She also serves as a board member on VMIC, and says she’s proud of Cytiva’s role in the genesis of the pandemic initiative. While VMIC wasn’t quite prepared to tackle COVID-19 when the pandemic struck, the effort is now hustling to lock down vaccine manufacturing capacity, first for the U.K., and then the world.

Editor's note: This article was corrected to say that Cytiva was sold off rather than rebranded. 

Daria Donati