The government identified eleven Portuguese companies that can help manufacture vaccines against Covid-19 in the European Union (EU) and invited them to participate in an online event on March 29th and 30th The Interest of Other Companies, that need to increase their production capacity, announced the Minister for Economy and Digital Change, Pedro Siza Vieira.
This virtual meeting is part of the strategy to increase the production of vaccines against Covid-19 in the EU, which is responsible for EU Commissioner Thierry Breton, who was in Lisbon this Friday as Portugal holds the rotating EU Council Presidency. He met with Prime Minister António Costa and the Minister for Economic Affairs.
“We have identified 52 factories in the European Union that are capable of supplying whatever is needed,” said the Internal Market Commissioner. “We now understand the capacity of these factories much better and are therefore more certain of the amount of vaccines that will be delivered in the second quarter: more than 360 million doses,” said Thierry Breton. The lion’s share will come from Pfizer-BioNtech (200 million doses), but the accounts also include 70 million from AstraZeneca and 10 million from CureVac in Germany, which is expected to be approved by the European Medicines Agency soon, he said.
It is necessary, however, to prepare for the following fall when it may be necessary to produce a booster dose of vaccines against Covid-19, not least because many variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus appear and against some vaccines it does not work as well .
For this reason, the European Commission wants to involve a large number of companies in order to increase the production capacity for vaccines. To this end, there is a new tool, the HERA Incubator, which “aims to bring together researchers, biotechnology companies, manufacturers, regulators and authorities to monitor variants, exchange data and collaborate on the adaptation of vaccines”, according to a press release from the Commission .
This is where the 11 Portuguese companies with national and foreign capital selected by the Ministry of Economy for the event on March 29th and 30th will enter. Minister Siza Vieira did not identify them – he just mentioned the viral vaccine factory that Spanish pharmaceutical company Zendal is building in Paredes de Coura – but the PUBLIC knows some of them.
For example, the Coimbra pharmaceutical company BluePharma. There were “contacts at the level of the State Secretariat for Internationalization,” confirmed Paulo Barradas Rebelo, President of the company. “We have sent you a written document outlining the potential BluePharma can offer,” he explained.
But he continues to warn: “It’s not that we are currently making vaccines and that we can start making the one for covid-19. It’s nothing like that, ”said Paulo Barradas Rebelo. “We have a great deal of expertise in the area of complex injectable substances [sistemas para administrar um medicamento através de uma agulha oca e uma seringa, usados para tratar cancro, por exemplo]what can be interesting, ”he illustrates.
And BluePharma is building a new plant. “We are making large investments in Coimbra and have made it possible for us to expand the project to the vaccines sector,” says Paulo Barradas Rebelo. “But we also always say that this is not an immediate matter. It is a pharmaceutical industry to build an industrial unit. This requires projects, licenses, orders for bespoke devices and the validation of all of this, the putting together of teams and their training. These are processes that always stretch over three to four years, ”he warned.
Genibet, a company founded in 2006 on the initiative of the Institute for Experimental and Technological Biology, which was also invited to participate in the online event and specializes in the manufacture of biopharmaceuticals for clinical trials, has several customers for whom it manufactures similar products In the case of vaccines against Covid-19 such as messenger RNA, the director Raquel Fortunato informed the PUBLIC.
“In 2015 we produced the messenger RNA for the clinical trial of another moderna drug that has nothing to do with the Covid-19 vaccine,” he said.
For other customers, deactivated adenovirus products are made that are similar to those used by AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines to insert the SARS-CoV-2 gene into our bodies, which teaches the immune system to fight infection. “We have two customers, one in Finland and one in Spain, who use a virus that only infects tumor cells,” he explains.
But even Genibet could not immediately start large-scale production to respond to the production of vaccines against Covid-19. “We have some capacity, but typically we need around 500 vials of doses for clinical trials – the scale would be different. We have the know-how, but to be able to scale and expand, we need investments, ”admits Raquel Fortunato.