Rivals unite: J&J inks vaccine deal with Merck

Merck & Co. has partnered with J&J to help manufacture its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine which recently received approval from the FDA.

After discontinuing its own COVID vaccine development at the start of this year, Merck & Co. (known as MSD outside of North America) has formed a partnership with Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to use its facilities to manufacture the vaccine and provide a fill-finish service.

“Two of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world who are usually competitors are working together on the vaccine,” said US president Joe Biden at the White House after announcing the US will have enough supply of COVID-19 vaccines for every American by the end of the May.  He said, “This is the type of collaboration between companies we saw in World War II.”

Image/iStock: kovop58

In normal times, the partnership of pharmaceutical rivals J&J and Merck would be considered unusual. However, the Coronavirus pandemic has seen other rival companies come together to help support production of COVID vaccines and medicines.

For example, Sanofi and J&J also collaborated this month to leverage its manufacturing network as well as Novartis who signed a deal with Pfizer in January to provide manufacturing capacity for its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.

A Merck spokesperson would not divulge what facilities are being used. However, according to the firm’s website it has ten manufacturing supply sites located across the US, three of which cater for vaccine manufacturing, and one site provides fill-finish services.

Its Elkton facility in Virginia is adding 120,000 square feet to its manufacturing operations and its facility in Durham, North Carolina previously announced additional investments to add new products which will include a 225,000 square-foot addition.

Merck’s site in Westpoint, Pennsylvania produces and tests medicines, vaccines, and biological products and its 500,000 square-foot Wilson, North Carolina site is dedicated to packaging and offers fill-finish to its customers.

Merck to receive up to $268.8m

In related news the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) will provide Merck with funding to expand, adapt, and make multiple facilities available to produce COVID-19 vaccines and medicines.

Merck will use the $268.8 million to adapt existing manufacturing facilities to support the production of COVID vaccines and medicines.

“This funding from BARDA will allow us to accelerate our efforts to scale up our manufacturing capacity to enable timely delivery of much needed medicines and vaccines for the pandemic,” said Merck’s EVP of Human Health, Mike Nally.

BARDA’S funding is in addition to Merck’s planned scheduled capital investment of more than $20 billion from 2020 to 2024 in support of its global vaccine manufacturing network efforts. The firm has invested heavily in its US network over the past few years.

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