BioNTech buys Novartis plant to bring mRNA to Singapore

BioNTech is set to acquire a Novartis small molecule plant molecule site in Singapore and will transform it into the country’s first mRNA manufacturing facility.  

In May 2021, BioNTech said it was aiming to bring messenger RNA (mRNA) manufacturing to Asia by building a facility in Singapore. 18 months on and the firm has now entered into an agreement to acquire a GMP-certified manufacturing facility on the island-state from pharma giant Novartis.

“Novartis announced today that it has entered into an agreement with BioNTech to sell its Singapore Small Molecules site assets. As part of the agreement, Novartis will be providing engineering and product transfer services to help BioNTech establish its manufacturing footprint in Singapore,” a spokesperson for Novartis told BioProcess Insider.

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“The asset deal follows the decision Novartis announced in 2020 to discontinue operations at its Singapore Small Molecules site at the end of 2023, through a phased exit

“Throughout the process, Novartis continued to explore options, which could potentially allow the site to remain operational and the opportunity to sell the site asset and support the set-up of BioNTech’s mRNA vaccines manufacturing operations in Singapore turned out to be the best option.”

BioNTech says it anticipates the facility to be fully operational in late 2023, and that it will be the first messenger RNA (mRNA) production plant in Singapore. The site is expected to support BioNTech’s mRNA-based vaccines and therapeutics across the region at clinical and commercial scale.

“We are excited to be moving a step closer to expanding our global manufacturing network to Singapore, supporting production of mRNA-based vaccines and therapeutics for the Asia Pacific region. The acquisition gives us the opportunity to accelerate the establishment of a state-of-the-art mRNA manufacturing facility and thus to create capacity more quickly for potential clinical studies and commercial supply of our mRNA vaccines and therapeutics for the region,” said Sierk Poetting, chief operating officer of BioNTech.

The firm said that this may include its COVID-19 vaccine created in partnership with Pfizer, as well as its oncology product candidates if they are authorized by various regulatory authorities.

According to BioNTech, the site will be a fully integrated mRNA production facility, with a forecasted annual production capacity of up to several hundred million doses of vaccines after it is fully completed. Additionally, the site is said to have the potential to expand its production focus to other modalities, such as cell therapies.

BioNTech has made a string of investments to bring mRNA manufacturing to different parts of the world. In October 2021, the German biotech signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Rwandan government and Institut Pasteur de Dakar in Senegal to build an mRNA plant in Africa. And just one year later, the firm laid out plans to construct a research and manufacturing center for mRNA-based products in Melbourne, Australia.

100 jobs

BioNTech says the site will create over 100 jobs in Singapore by 2024 across various roles, including engineering, operations, quality, finance, supply chain management, and human resources.

Novartis told this publication that the deal in question “does not include the transfer of Novartis employees to BioNTech,” but does create “certain potential employment opportunities for Novartis associates from the Singapore Small Molecules site and it will enable the site to continue the rich pharmaceutical manufacturing legacy in the area.”

Novartis claims that while it has sold its small molecules site, it is still committed to Singapore through its other facilities and operations and the decision to sell the asset “is part of Novartis strategy to reimagine manufacturing through an industry-leading transformation process to build a fit-for-future operating model.”