Riding Covid-19 high, Aspen plans new additions at South African production site
Changes are coming to Aspen Pharmacare’s plant in Gqeberha, South Africa.
The company will open the largest anesthetics manufacturing line in the southern hemisphere at the same site that it fills and packages the J&J Covid-19 vaccine, the company’s CEO Stephen Saad told reporters Monday.
The expansion could generate another $542 million in revenue a year. In 2018, Aspen started manufacturing drugs for late-stage cancer, autoimmune illnesses and Parkinson’s disease. Just last year, it started fill-finish operations for the J&J jab.
“This facility will help ensure no African is ever denied these treatments like anesthetics and vaccines again,” Saad said. “We thank J&J for giving us the capability to create our own manufacturing facilities. So we’ve been able to produce vaccines in Africa and now to also bring anesthetics home.”
The move will allow the company to slide into vaccine production, and shift away from generic medicines. Aspen’s currently engaged in talks with J&J to fully manufacture the Covid-19 jab, Bloomberg reports. It’s currently in the final stages of the fill and finish deal.
The company also will ramp up its Covid-19 capacity to 1.3 billion doses a year by February 2024, Saad told Reuters on Monday. That would require a tremendous amount of ramp up, as the company’s current output is somewhere around 250 million doses.
“We have got an absolute commitment to 700 million doses till February 2023 … within a year after that, we could get (to) 1.3 billion doses,” Saad said to Reuters at the opening of Aspen’s facility at Gqeberha.
Ebrahim Patel, the minister of trade and industry, said that 100% of the vaccines produced at Aspen’s site will stay in Africa from September, on.
The company was a part of some negative headlines in August, at no fault of its own. Despite receiving a $200 million investment from President Joe Biden’s administration to up production on the continent, the New York Times reported that much of the vaccines produced at the site were actually exported to Europe, as J&J capitalized on a stipulation in a contract that required South Africa to waive its right to export restrictions. All this was happening as Africa had just 2% of its people vaccinated, compared with 60% of all adults in Europe. J&J’s vaccine is beneficial in Africa, particularly the rural parts, because it is a single shot, making it easier for those who have to travel long distances to become fully inoculated.
The African Union has ordered 400 million doses for its countries, but few have arrived so far. South Africa has handed out just 2 million of its 31 million doses.