Huge doses of coronavirus vaccine could be made in West Chester: What we know now

A drug maker is retrofitting its Butler County manufacturing facility to gear up for production of a COVID-19 vaccine, which is under late-stage trials in Europe.

The retrofitting of AstraZeneca’s complex at 8814 Trade Port Drive in West Chester Twp. should be completed within the next two to three weeks, township officials told the Journal-News.

The permit for the company’s retrofitting project was finalized Monday, documents supplied to this news outlet show.

“We are progressing construction and preparation activities at the West Chester site, and other sites globally, to be fully prepared for the formulation, filling and packaging of the COVID vaccine,” said spokeswoman Michele Meixell.

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AstraZeneca’s West Chester Twp. site employs approximately 400 people. The company employs nearly 13,000 people nationwide and more than 70,000 worldwide.

The West Chester site is one of AstraZeneca’s key U.S. operations centers, Meixell said. The company has selected it for this work because it is an aseptic sterile filling and packaging facility that has the capability to perform a key part of the vaccine manufacturing, she said.

The company does not have any updates to share about potential new roles in West Chester, but the overall vaccine project is supporting jobs across AstraZeneca and other external partners and vendors, Meixell said.

“The potential vaccine is currently in clinical trials and it is important to remember that there is no guarantee that this vaccine will work,” she said. “We are hopeful that it will be safe and effective, but we need to wait for the results of the clinical trial program.”

The retrofitting project will be carried out by Dallas based-Jacobs Engineering Group, which has a Sharonville location.

“West Chester is proud to be home to great innovators like AstraZeneca,” said Township Administrator Larry Burks. “As the world wages war on COVID-19, AstraZeneca has taken a giant leap in making a difference in people’s lives and West Chester is honored to be a small part of that.”

The drug maker said May 21 it had secured its first agreements for 400 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine it is testing.

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The company reported it had received more than $1 billion from the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority for the development, production and delivery of the vaccine, starting this fall.

The investment will accelerate the development and production of the vaccine, AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said. It had already joined forces with the British government and is in discussions with the Serum Institute of India and other potential partners to increase production and distribution.

“We will do everything in our power to make this vaccine quickly and widely available,” Soriot said.

The Harvard Business Review selected Soriot among the Top 100 Best Performing CEOs in the world for 2019, and one of only three CEOs from a biopharmaceutical company.

San Diego, Calif.-based Amylin Pharmaceuticals started running the West Chester Twp. manufacturing plant in 2009 to make a diabetes drug treatment. After Amylin received federal approval in the United States for the sale of its drug Bydureon, a weekly drug treatment for Type 2 diabetes, it was acquired in 2012 by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. of Princeton, New Jersey. From that time forward, Amylin operated as a subsidiary of Bristol-Myers.

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In December 2013, Bristol-Myers announced it would sell its diabetes business to AstraZeneca, including the Butler County facility, for $2.7 billion. The transaction closed in February 2014.

AstraZeneca said in a statement last month it had secured manufacturing capacity for 1 billion doses and aims to secure further agreements to expand capacity further over the next months “to ensure the delivery of a globally accessible vaccine.″

The company also finalized its licence agreement with Oxford University for the vaccine, now known as AZD1222. The vaccine was developed by Oxford University’s Jenner Institute, working with the Oxford Vaccine Group.

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Testing of the experimental COVID-19 vaccine began in healthy volunteers in Britain in April with over 1,000 people aged 18 to 55.

Data from the trial is expected soon, and if results are positive, further trials will take place in other countries..

“AstraZeneca recognizes that the vaccine may not work,″ the statement said, “but is committed to progressing the clinical program with speed and scaling up manufacturing at risk.″

Experts like Lawrence Young, a professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, said the development was important in planning for the equitable supply of the vaccine throughout the world. But he urged caution and said other vaccine candidates should be explored.

“It is …jumping the gun as we don’t know that this vaccine will work,″ he said. “Early studies using the Oxford vaccine in monkeys showed that while vaccination reduced the severity of disease preventing pneumonia it failed to stop the animals from becoming infected,″ with the virus that causes COVID-19.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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