Pfizer and BioNTech ramp up COVID-19 vaccine production to 2.5 billion doses

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Pfizer

Pfizer and BioNTech expect to expand COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing capacity to up to 2.5 billion doses by the end of 2021, thanks to the optimization of production processes and the recent initiation of production in Marburg, Germany.

Earlier this year the companies had set the target of producing 2 billion doses in 2021, which it has now upped to 2.5 billion.

“The increase is driven by the optimization of production processes, the recent initiation of production at BioNTech’s Marburg, Germany facility, regulatory approval for six dose vials, and the expansion of our manufacturing and supplier network,” ​notes BioNTech. “Additional measures and discussions with potential partners to further expand the manufacturing capacity and network are ongoing.

In particular, the start of production in Marburg has driven an increase in production: with the site now one of the largest mRNA vaccine manufacturing sites in the world​ with annual production capacity set to reach one billion doses once fully operational.

“Due to optimized operational efficiencies which were initiated last year, BioNTech was able to increase the expected annual manufacturing capacity by 250 million doses. The first batches of vaccines manufactured at the Marburg site are expected to be delivered in the second half of April. BioNTech plans to produce up to 250 million doses of BNT162b2 in the first half of 2021.”

Between then, Pfizer and BioNTech are now manufacturing the vaccine across sites in Europe (Puurs, Belgium; Marburg, Germany; and Mainz, Germany) and US (Kalamazoo, NI; Andover, MA; and St Louis, MO). 

Supply and demand

To date, the two companies have signed orders for 1.4 billion doses for this year. The US has ordered 300 million doses; the EU 500 million (with option for an additional 100m); 144 million doses are destined for Japan, 30 million for the UK and another 450 million across other global markets.

BioNTech and Pfizer expect additional orders during the year, with the upped manufacturing capacity ready to meet demand.

Speaking in the company's FY2020 call earlier this week, Sean Marett, chief business and commercial officer at BioNTech, highlighted the speed and flexibility of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing. 

"We can go from DNA template production to sterile filtration and filling in as few as 9-13 days,"​ he said. "Although 50,000 steps are required for manufacturing the mRNA, the overall manufacturing from DNA template to fill and finish can be done in less than two weeks. Following production, quality control and release can take another 4-5 weeks, and then we are ready to deliver the vaccine. 

"One of the advantages of our mRNA technology is that it allows for rapid adaption of the vaccine to variants. Unlike traditional vaccine production, we can adapt our manufacturing to encode a new variant if needed, simply by providing a DNA template that encodes the sequence of the new variant. This can be done within a couple of weeks. 

"Another advantage is we can increase or descrease manufacturing quantities with a short lead time. Thus, our manufacturing technology provides us with the flexibility to respond to market demand."

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