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This small Canadian drugmaker wants to make J&J vaccines for poor nations. It needs more than a patent waiver.

Sarah Jane Tribble and Arthur Allen, Kaiser Health News on

Published in News & Features

Bio Farma, the state vaccine producer in Indonesia, is planning to produce one of the Chinese vaccines. The Brazilian company Fiocruz is making AstraZeneca’s vaccine, as is the Serum Institute of India. All these deals involve technology transfer and training, as well as raw materials.

Dr. George Siber, a vaccine expert currently consulting with six vaccine companies worldwide, including mRNA vaccine maker CureVac, said that without the technology transfer “we’re talking about years of work” to figure out how to replicate a vaccine.

Vaccine manufacturers have partnered across the globe ― and it has been akin to a high-end matchmaking process with the vaccine makers signing voluntary licensing deals only with trusted manufacturers.

Thomas Cueni, director-general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, said that with each partnership the original vaccine manufacturer is stretched “to the limits because really there’s a lot of hand-holding, there’s a lot of knowledge sharing, training of skilled workers.”

To emphasize the work involved, Cueni pointed to the mRNA vaccine of Pfizer-BioNTech, which has more than 280 components and 86 suppliers from 19 countries.

It’s not likely, Cueni added, that the COVID-19 vaccine makers will willingly partner with a company unless they mutually agreed to do so.

 

“Do you think that if you try to coerce companies already stretched out, they would then give you not just the recipe, the blueprint, but really show you how to do it?” he said.

J&J spokesperson Jake Sargent declined to confirm the email interaction with Biolyse. But he said in an email that only a limited number of manufacturers can produce its vaccine safely, with high quality, and to scale. J&J assessed nearly 100 production sites and, in the end, selected fewer than a dozen.

For the manufacturers, supplies are also a hurdle. As more companies get into the game of making vaccines globally, there simply won’t be enough ingredients.

Pfizer’s Sharon Castillo wrote in an email that if companies begin to buy up scarce supplies in the hope of manufacturing a vaccine using technology developed by others, “it will make it harder, not easier, to manufacture vaccines in the near term.”

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