Pfizer’s Andover site is ramping up operations to accommodate the mass production of a coronavirus vaccine, which is now in clinical trials.
If federally approved, the manufacture of the mRNA solution of the vaccine will take place in Andover’s clinical manufacturing facility, Building E.
“Our role in Andover is to develop the technology required to manufacture millions of doses of the vaccine,” said Meg Ruesch, Pfizer’s research and development site leader in Andover. “Our target is to be able to manufacture tens of millions of doses this year and hundreds of millions of doses to be available in 2021.”
Back in March, Pfizer joined forces with BioNTech, a biotechnology company based out of Germany, to begin work on an mRNA vaccine. The companies are concurrently working on four different versions of a vaccine, each representing a different mRNA “format.” The most effective one will then be mass produced.
MRNA is a type of genetic material that provides instructions to our cells to make different proteins.
“This vaccine is designed to deliver the instructions, or the message, to make a piece of the COVID-19 virus and then our bodies would recognize that piece as foreign and form an immune response to it,” Ruesch explained.
It took four months for the companies to move the vaccines from pre-clinical studies to human trials. At the end of April, the first dosing of human participants took place in Germany, then shortly thereafter, human trials began in the United States.
The first phase of the dosing trial began with four participants in order to determine the safety and optimal dose level of the four different vaccines. The next phase enrolled 360 healthy people in the U.S. in two age groups. The first group is in the 18- to 55-year-old age range and the second age range is 65 to 85.
Company officials say they are “confident” they’re moving in the right direction and the clinical trials will determine the exact science.
Jon Tucker, Pfizer’s global supply site leader in Andover, said more than 100 employees at the Andover site will be involved in the development, manufacture and testing of the COVID-19 vaccine. Pfizer’s Andover site is comprised of nine buildings on a 70-acre campus where 1,400 employees work.
“Our engineering — or test runs — will start in June, ready to manufacture mRNA on a commercial scale, which to our knowledge has never been done before,” said Tucker.
Ruesch said Pfizer’s Andover site already has the talent necessary to manufacture the vaccine. While some current employees will work on the production of the vaccine, the company has posted about 40 positions to bring on new scientists, lab techs and manufacturing employees.
“The site is growing, which is tremendous news for the local community and for Andover,” said Tucker.