By Lina Saigol
BioNTech /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +5.57% /zigman2/quotes/222361179/delayed XE:22UA +5.69% is now in line to deliver up to 75 million more doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to the European Union in the second quarter than originally planned, after the modification of production sites in Belgium and Germany.
German-based BioNTech said it would increase production of the shot it has developed with U.S. drug manufacturer Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE -0.15% , with a new facility set to open in the central German city of Marburg in February, which, it said, will have the capacity to produce 750 million vaccine doses a year.
“In order to respond to an increased global demand, we plan to manufacture 2 billion doses of our COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 by expanding the previously expected output of 1.3 billion doses by more than 50%. We are on track to scale up our manufacturing capacities,” BioNTech said in a statement released Monday.
The news comes as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and 16 heads of state from EU countries are due to hold crisis talks on Monday and discuss ways of boosting the 27-member bloc’s immunization program, after cities in several countries, including France, Spain and Portugal, suspended inoculations due to supply constraints.
U.K.-Swedish drug company AstraZeneca /zigman2/quotes/203048482/delayed UK:AZN +0.32% on Sunday agreed to supply 9 million additional doses of the vaccine it developed with the University of Oxford to the EU during the first quarter, following a high-profile row over shortages in the bloc. The extra shots are to arrive in the first three months of the year, for a total of 40 million doses in that period.
Europe’s drug regulator on Friday authorized the use of the AstraZeneca–Oxford shot for people over 18. However, the EU’s vaccine rollout has come under intense criticism for being too slow compared with countries including the U.S. and the U.K., which has already vaccinated more than 8.9 million people.
The EU’s supply issue was exacerbated after both AstraZeneca /zigman2/quotes/200304487/composite AZN +1.05% and BioNTech, together with Pfizer, announced cuts in supplies to the bloc, citing production problems at European plants.
“We are working with pharmaceutical companies to ensure vaccines are delivered to Europeans,” the European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, said in a tweet on Monday.
To help ease the supply crisis, French drug manufacturer Sanofi /zigman2/quotes/206928357/delayed FR:SAN -1.18% and Swiss rival Novartis /zigman2/quotes/203286410/delayed CH:NOVN -0.80% said last week that they would help produce the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine in an effort to boost output.
Separately on Monday, German pharmaceutical and life-sciences company Bayer /zigman2/quotes/206842998/delayed XE:BAYN +1.03% said it has expanded its agreement to help CureVac /zigman2/quotes/219999729/composite CVAC +2.65% produce its experimental COVID shot and expects to produce 160 million doses in 2022 at its Wuppertal site in western Germany.
Tübingen, Germany-based CureVac, which struck a partnership with Bayer in January, started late-stage testing of its experimental shot in December. It said it expected to have interim results in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, the U.K. government said it had secured another 40 million doses of the vaccine candidate being developed by French pharmaceutical company Valneva /zigman2/quotes/202377434/delayed FR:VLA +3.16% /zigman2/quotes/206365222/delayed UK:0OB3 0.00% . The deal takes the total number of Valneva shots to 100 million, to be manufactured in Scotland, and brings the U.K.’s total stockpile of doses shots to more than 400 million through 2022.
The French company’s vaccine candidate is currently in Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials, involving 150 volunteers at sites across Bristol, Birmingham, Southampton and Newcastle to evaluate safety and whether it produces an immune response in healthy adults.
If successful, Valneva will carry out a larger study in April, with more than 4,000 volunteers testing two doses of the vaccine in two groups: those aged between 18 and 65 years and those over 65.
If the vaccine candidate is approved, 60 million doses could start to be delivered to the U.K. by the second half of 2021, with the remaining 40 million being delivered in 2022.