Demand for Covid Products to Remain High: Merck KGaA CEO
Novartis AG agreed to produce CureVac NV’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate in a deal that will boost the potential supply of the shot by as much as 250 million doses over the course of this year and next.
The Swiss pharmaceutical giant could make as many as 50 million doses this year and 200 million doses in 2022, the partners said in a statement. Once the final agreement is signed, Novartis plans to start production in the second quarter and ship the first deliveries to CureVac this summer.
Unlike Novartis’s previous agreement with BioNTech SE, which covered putting vaccines into vials, the CureVac deal is for producing and formulating the messenger RNA necessary to make the shot. It’s an important boost in capacity for CureVac, which is relying on a network of partners to make up to 300 million doses this year. Meanwhile, Novartis has more Covid production deals in the works, said Steffen Lang, head of the company’s technical operations.
“We have discussions on additional support for Covid vaccine manufacturers, but also for some of the therapeutic drugs which have the potential to be applied to treat Covid-19,” Lang said in an interview. “Rest assured that over the coming weeks we expect more news to be shared.”
Shares of Novartis were little changed in Switzerland. CureVac’s U.S. shares rose about 4 per cent in premarket trading. They’ve gained 3.1 per cent since the start of the year.
Like the BioNTech shot, which is partnered with Pfizer Inc., CureVac’s experimental, two-dose vaccine relies on mRNA technology to turn the body’s own cells into vaccine-making factories. The Tuebingen, Germany-based biotech has taken longer in the development process, however. Its shot is still in the final stage of clinical trials, with market approval expected in late May or June, Chief Executive Officer Franz-Werner Haas told European Union officials last week.
CureVac also has a cooperation pact with German drugs and chemicals maker Bayer AG. Bayer will help with regulatory clearances and global distribution and has said it expects to be able to produce 160 million doses of the vaccine next year at a factory in Wuppertal, Germany.
CureVac is also working with GlaxoSmithKline Plc to develop a second-generation shot that could target mutated strains or multiple lineages of the virus. The goal is to optimize CureVac’s platform so that the future shot requires lower doses and is easier to transport and use.
The Novartis production will be run in Kundl, Austria, a small town in the Alpine foothills. Scale-up will probably involve hiring 50 to 100 people, Lang said.