Lonza’s alleged need for Nestlé staff highlights shortage in biopharma talent

Neither company will confirm reports that Nestlé staff have been commandeered to help Lonza service its Moderna contract but the story highlights biomanufacturing staffing issues.

A report by Reuters this week claims contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) Lonza is adding staff from fellow Swiss firm Nestlé in order to service a deal to produce drug substance for hundreds of millions of doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.

The “call for volunteers” following an intervention by the Swiss government aims at avoiding further manufacturing bottlenecks after certain shipments to countries including the UK and Canada were delayed, the news outlet said.

Neslé’s HQ in Vevey, Switzerland – about 80 miles west of Lonza’s Visp site. Image: iStock/RomanBabakin

Both Lonza and Nestlé refused to confirm the redeployment of staff or comment on the story when approached by us, though a spokesperson from the food maker told us Nestlé “supports a broad and equitable delivery of COVID-19 vaccines across the globe, and we continue to look for ways we can play a role in this effort.”

Nes-quick deployment

The commandeering of food and supplement production staff by a biomanufacturer is, like many things in the past year, unprecedented, bringing up visions of the redeployment of factory staff to make weapons during wartime.

However, the movement of facility workers from one industry sector to another is not a simple task when factoring in the strict regulations enforced in the pharma sector.

“I certainly wouldn’t want folks without training/experience in my front-line production areas and I don’t imagine that the regulators would be happy with that either,” a seasoned executive in the biomanufacturing space told BioProcess Insider.

With no details from Lonza or Nestlé, the exec could only speculate on what job roles, if any, could be transferable between the two firms.

“Training for support areas like buffer/media prep. would also be necessary in my view. Things get a little easier if this is warehouse work or support of utilities (water, HVAC etc.) as some skills may be transferable. Some lab work may also be transferable from ‘food lab’ I guess, but again the devil is in the details,” we were told.

“Regardless of specifics, significant training should be required for quality procedures etc.”

Staff shortages

However, the alleged Nestlé-Lonza staff-swap highlights a much bigger problem across our industry, the exec said: the global lack of qualified and experienced staff.

Prcuring qualified manufacturing staff has been a concern for years, and while some training facilities and incentives have sprung up, the general consensus among professionals is that the amount of talent coming through is not reflective of the huge investment in capacity being seen across the industry, with COVID-19 driving demand for further expansions.

“I don’t subscribe to the position that all manufacturing operators need previous experience in the industry, but significant training (including cGMP training) is undoubtedly needed,” the exec said. “Some of the best ‘manufacturing guys’ that I have hired over the years have been military guys or, in particular, civilians who have worked on military bases.”