Novartis pairs up with CureVac to help drive Covid-19 shot production but may miss the show in the US, EU
With the pandemic potentially entering its later stages, major drugmakers like Merck have jumped in to aid in the gargantuan task of manufacturing other companies’ vaccines. Now, after a relatively quiet year, Novartis is teaming up with one of the mRNA players to help the production crunch.
Novartis will help manufacture bulk drug substance for CureVac’s mRNA-based Covid-19 shot, dubbed CVnCoV, at its Kundl, Austria site with plans to produce up to 50 million doses by the end of 2021, the Swiss drugmaker said Thursday.
In a deal that marks Novartis’ first partnership with a major Covid-19 vaccine player, the company will also aim to churn out an additional 200 million doses worth of the bulk vaccine in 2022, it said. CureVac will handle fill-finish work for the shots.
Until now, Novartis was perhaps best known in the Covid-19 response for its decision in March to distribute as many as 130 million doses of antiviral hydroxychloroquine, the now discredited generic that President Donald Trump and some of his aides touted as a game changer in the early days of the pandemic. Months later, the drugmaker also signed a pact with US generics maker Civica Rx to turbocharge production of 15 generics used to treat hospitalized Covid-19 patients amid chronic shortages of those drugs.
The CureVac deal represents a big step up in visibility for Novartis’ efforts, but they may come too late to make much of a difference for vaccination drives in the US and Europe, which have already seen multiple drugmakers cross the finish line — including two other mRNA players in Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.
CureVac is one of a group of mRNA vaccine players — Moderna obviously the most successful — that have seen their stars rise during the pandemic. At one stage, Tesla inventor Elon Musk announced very ad hoc plans to work with CureVac on mRNA “microfactories,” a project he unveiled by tweet with very little in the way of details.
During its rapid scale-up in 2020, CureVac hired on Novartis veteran Igor Splawski as its chief science officer, a rapport that may have greased the wheels for the manufacturing agreement. Splawski played a big role at the Novartis Institutes for Biological Research under Jay Bradner, where he was an executive director and site head. According to his LinkedIn profile, Splawski had worked with more than 100 scientists, where “antibody, protein and mRNA therapeutic projects are run in collaboration with the Cardiovascular & Metabolism, Oncology, Immuno-Oncology, Ophthalmology, Respiratory, Musculoskeletal and Neuroscience disease areas.”
In February, CureVac submitted its rolling submission with the EMA for CVnCoV as it conducts late-stage testing. The Phase IIb/III study is being conducted at sites in the EU and Latin America, CureVac said at the time.