Vaccine supply shortages complicate push to inoculate

Published: Feb. 16, 2021 at 7:06 AM AKST
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(CNN) - There are several COVID-19 vaccines on the market and many more in the pipeline, but making enough vaccine doses for the entire world could take years due to manufacturing challenges.

The genetic code in MRNA vaccines are transported into human cells via lipid nanoparticles, little fatty bubbles.

Around a thousandth of the width of a single human hair, they’re incredibly small, critical to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, and there aren’t nearly enough.

Acuitas Therapeutics is one of the biotech firms making the lipid component in the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. They’re also supporting Curevac and Imperial College London, who have vaccine candidates in the pipeline.

But they can’t make enough by themselves.

“We don’t try and do it all ourselves. We try to enable others around the globe to be able to contribute to this, to this effort,” said Thomas Madden, president and CEO of Acuitas. “Whenever we reach out to other companies to ask them whether they could support manufacturing of the lipid components, for example, as soon as they hear it’s to support a COVID-19 vaccine, you know, they’re completely engaged.”

While powerful alliances are being forged in the private sector, there are calls though for more cooperation at government level.

“Now we’re facing a situation where overall capacity, whether it’s for the first steps of manufacturing or for fill and finish, they are scarce. And as a result, we need public agencies - so governments nationally or regionally, they have to come together and ask the question, if I have this capacity for something, how do I ensure that it remains coordinated between multiple vaccine manufacturers?” said Prashant Yadav, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.

Greenlight Biosciences, a biotech firm in Boston, has delayed the development of their MRNA vaccine candidate so they can tailor it to the newer variants of coronavirus. It will also allow them more time to increase capacity.

“Greenlight has been looking for multiple facilities. We are in conversations with multiple regional partners in South Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, North America, South America to implement those facilities,” said Andrey Zarur, CEO of Greenlight Biosciences.

“Those facilities will take roughly six to nine months to construct, and then they need to be validated by local regulatory authorities, which adds, you know, anywhere between a month and three months or whatever. But once each one of those facilities is up and running, they will be able to produce billions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine locally,” Zarur said.

The CEO is also looking to partner with companies who fail to make a vaccine.

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“We’re looking for a GMP facility. We’re looking for local partners. So that’s my want-ad on CNN is, can we please if you have spare capacity or you want to participate in getting local, local production up and running? Please give us a call,” Zarur said.

Vaccine factories and lipid nanoparticles are just some of the bottlenecks to vaccinating the world, and there will be more, not least as new variants of coronavirus require modifying vaccines, perhaps for years to come.

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