Tallying the costs of RNA vs AAV at BPI West

RNA vaccine manufacturing has lower CAPEX but higher operational costs than AVV vaccine production, says an expert at BPI West.  

Messenger (mRNA) was thrusted into the limelight through the success of Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer’s respective COVID-19 vaccines. Their approvals have helped bring confidence to the mRNA sector and drive investment in wider RNA technology platforms. 

But despite its success, the RNA space still has many challenges to overcome and comparisons to other modalities are heavily debated. Zoltan Kis, lecturer at the department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Sheffield at Imperial College London, said RNA platforms are based on faster cell free processes, but lack the “considerable manufacturing know-how worldwide” seen with adeno-associated virus (AAV) based vaccines.

He told delegates at BPI West 2023 in San Diego, California this week that while RNA is “catching up” with more proven modalities, costs must be considered when mass-manufacturing vaccines. According to Kis, the modality carries higher raw material and operational costs when compared to AAV vaccine production.  

Despite this, Kis said RNA vaccine production has a lower capital expenditure (CAPEX) burden and thus requires a smaller facility footprint. Therefore companies are able to have a relatively smaller dedicated space for this modality.  

“AAV vaccine production has a higher fixed cost, thus it is more cost effective to maintain RNA vaccine production [at] surge capacity.”  

Overall, Kis determined that RNA “production is fast, and requires less upfront capital investment [including] a relatively small facility footprint.”