Takeda warns of failures and bottlenecks in COVID vaccine rush

Takeda says it is looking to partner to enter the COVID-19 vaccine race but warns industry of the difficulties of developing and manufacturing such products.

Industry’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been unprecedented. According to data provided by Pharma Intelligence, there are – as of Friday 15 May – 116 vaccines in development against COVID-19, nine of which are being trialed in humans.

But while pharma giant Takeda has welcomed the surge in COVID-19 programs, CEO Christophe Weber has warned of the difficulties in bringing a vaccine to fruition.

Image: iStock/Besiki Kavtaradze

“We shouldn’t forget that developing a vaccine is very hard. Some vaccines will have no efficacy, some vaccines will have efficacy which will wane overtime, and some will need a booster,” he told stakeholder this week.

“So the world might think that it’s a slam dunk that vaccines will come but it’s far from sure. I’m optimistic that it will succeed. The question will be how much risk the world wants to take by shortening the development period of the vaccines, which normally take five to 10 years. I mean if you shorten to one to two years, you have less data, and therefore we need to see how we assess that.”

Manufacturing issues

Weber pointed at problems in the rapid manufacturing of new vaccines, specifically around scaling up of production as a candidate moves through the clinic, stating there will be bottlenecks to navigate around.

“One of the well-known bottlenecks in the industry is actually the syringe and the filling of the syringe, which is more in the late-stage downstream manufacturing process. But that’s a huge bottleneck.”

Another bottleneck he mentioned is in the freeze-drying process due to a scarcity of large-scale lyophilizers.

“We should be careful at managing expectations, not all vaccines will succeed. There will be some bad news, some good news as well. I think if you would succeed and then the scale up will take time.”

As such, expectations that the majority of the population worldwide will be vaccinated in the next year or two are unlikely to be met with Weber talking about a more typical five to ten year timeline.

Entering the vaccine rush

Weber said that “it’s good to have multiple technology progressing in parallel, because it would be too risky for the world to bet on one technology,” but added he believes there are too many projects underway leading to a waste of resources.

But despite this, he said Takeda is looking to enter the space by partnering with a vaccine developer soon.

“When we saw the coronavirus back in December, January, we assessed if we should have our own programs, but we didn’t have the best technology to launch our own programs,” he said.

“So, we didn’t launch our own vaccine programs, but we are keen to partner and we are in dialogue with a few [vaccine companies] and programs to be a partner so that we can help with the scaling up.”

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