From flu jabs, to mAbs, to COVID collabs: BioNTech nabs Novartis plant and labs

BioNTech is buying Novartis’ facility in Marburg, Germany to support the manufacture of its mRNA vaccine candidate against COVID-19.

Financial details of the acquisition have not been divulged, but the GMP facility in Marburg (about 50 miles north of Frankfurt) will be used to increase manufacturing capacity for BNT162b2, a Phase III messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine in development with Pfizer against COVID-19.

The Novartis facility houses equipment to produce recombinant proteins, and cell and gene therapies – as well as cell culture labs and viral vector production capabilities – but will be used to produce up to 750 million doses of the vaccine per year the firm said in a press conference.

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For BNT162b2, mRNA production, drug substance purification and concentration, and formulation will all take place at the Marburg site. Fill & finish will take place elsewhere, including across partner Pfizer’s network.

According to the firm, the Marburg facility is expected to operate as one of the largest mRNA manufacturing sites in Europe and joins two of BioNTech’s existing GMP facilities currently producing clinical batches of the COVID-19 vaccine candidates. The new site will be used for global commercial supply (if approval is reached)

Influenza to COVID-19 vaccines

The site has a long history in producing pharmaceutical products, particularly vaccines.

Founded in 1904 by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Emil von Behring, the antitoxins for both diphtheria and tetanus were developed there. But in more recent times, the facility has been used by Swiss pharma giant Novartis to produce firstly flu vaccines, and then monoclonal antibodies.

Novartis developed and made the first cell culture-derived influenza vaccine, Flucelvax, from the facility before selling its full flu vaccine business to CSL Behring for $275 million in 2014.

Since then, Novartis has invested heavily into the plant to convert it into an antibody production facility.

According to a Novartis job application, “122 million Euros [ $142 million] investment for Novartis Manufacturing GmbH has transformed the Novartis Marburg site from a former vaccines production unit. BioProduction Marburg has been operating as Novartis Manufacturing GmbH at the Behringwerke Marburg location since 2015. The vaccines production facilities were converted for the production of monoclonal antibodies.”

BioNTech did not respond to email or phone enquiries as to how it intends to convert the plant back to vaccine manufacturing, but the firm claims it will produce up to 250 million doses of BNT162b2 in the first half of 2021.

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