Drugmaker Wockhardt said it is in talks with global vaccine makers for manufacturing their COVID-19 bulk vaccines. The Indian company may also do fill-and -finish doses out of its Aurangabad site in India.
"We are in discussions with a number of vaccine developers," said Habil Khorakiwala, Chairman of Wockhardt.
Khorakiwala said the company is considering collaborations that involve not just contract manufacturing but also manufacturing and distribution of the vaccine in India and other emerging markets.
"We have large biotech manufacturing facility with 120 scientists, we make drugs using recombinant technology, which can also be used to make certain kinds of vaccines," Khorakiwala said.
Khorakiwala said the company will rearrange its priorities for other products, to allow the manufacture of vaccines. He added that it doesn't require huge capital investment for this purpose, once the vaccine developers transfer their technology, we will tweak our systems and begin manufacturing.
Wockhardt makes recombinant human insulin, erythropoietin and other biologic products at its Biotech Park in Aurangabad, which has the capability to manufacture up to 1 billion doses. The company works on expression platforms such as yeast, e-coli and mamallian cells to produce biologic products.
Indian drug companies have jumped into the race to manufacture and distribute Covid-19 vaccines. But companies with biotech capabilities are ahead in vaccine deals. Dr Reddy's and Hetero have announced a collaboration with Russian sovereign fund RDIF to produce Sputnik V covid vaccine, Biological E has entered pact to produce Johnson & Johnson's covid vaccine. Aurobindo Pharma said it is building a new facility and is looking for such manufacturing partnerships.
UK government deal
Khorakiwala estimates a production capacity 15 billion doses per annum to vaccinate entire world, but he says the existing manufacturing capacity is only 5-6 billion doses. He said there is a huge gap in terms of manufacturing capacities.
The UK government has earlier contracted one fill and finish production line at Wockhardt's Wrexham, North Wales manufacturing site for its exclusive use for 18 months in order to guarantee the supply of vaccines. In the initial phase, the UK site will produce 100 million doses per annum of AstraZeneca-University of Oxford's COVID-19 vaccine.
Khorakiwala said the UK government may use the facility to fill and finish other vaccines it is planning to acquire. Khorakiwala said Wrexham facility can be expanded to 350 million doses.
He said the UK government is paying about $50 million for using the facility, which can be expanded to $100 million based on an expansion of production.
On Monday, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Wockhardt's Wrexham site to review the preparation. The site is expected to begin manufacturing of covid vaccine in a few days, even as regulator UK's drug regulator MHRA is assessing the clinical trial data submitted by AstraZeneca-University of Oxford. The UK government has formally asked the MHRA to assess whether AstraZeneca covid vaccine is suitable for a temporary supply.