Biopharma has been quick to react to the COVID-19 pandemic. Moderna1 and Johnson & Johnson2 moved candidate SARS-CoV-2 vaccines into trials within months of the outbreak. Likewise, Pfizer3 and Sanofi4 are working on vaccines while GSK5 and Gilead6 are developing therapeutics.

When these vaccines and drugs become available depends on multiple factors with trial performance and regulatory approval timelines being critical.

Manufacturing capacity is also important, says Dirk Voelkel, VP of innovation at Cytiva, who told GEN how the company is supporting biopharma.7

“We are collaborating with over 200 customers on solutions for COVID-19 in three categories: diagnosis, vaccine development, and manufacturing treatment options,” he said. “On diagnostics, we are, for example, working with Sona Nanotechnology for rapid testing and Avacta to develop and manufacture a rapid test for the COVID-19 coronavirus infection for population screening. Our work with the University of Queensland aims to speed manufacture of a trial vaccine. Many of our products are used in the development and manufacturing of vaccines, either biotechnologically produced vaccines or modern mRNA vaccines.  We ensure delivery to these customers with high priority.”

Manufacturing and distributing bioprocessing systems and analytical technologies is a considerable challenge. The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns and border closures it has prompted, have had a significant impact on logistics for many industries. The bioprocessing sector is no exception, according to Voelkel, who says Cytiva is using various approaches to ensure production and distribution can continue. “As many commercial flights have been cancelled, we have, in some cases, chartered flights to send equipment to customers. We have sent more than 40 tons of instruments and consumables to more than 30 customers to ensure they are able to continue doing their important work.”

Cytiva has also put measures in place to ensure it can source raw materials, particularly from areas hit hard by COVID-19.

“Limited disruption is seen at this time, with incoming supplies from China, Korea, Japan, and Italy minimally affected. Details are being discussed where necessary with potentially impacted customers,” continues Voelkel. “We are committed to fulfilling customer needs and regularly adjust our manufacturing output to respond to market demands, while ensuring our plants can continue with safe operations. Our teams are taking necessary actions to secure the health and safety of all personnel working on our manufacturing sites, while ensuring that we can keep the manufacturing operations running.”

COVID-19 will change how the bioprocessing sector does business according to Voelkel, who predicts that collaboration will be needed to address the shortcomings that have exacerbated the pandemic.

“Innovation is needed quite simply everywhere,” he said. “With regard to services and Factory Acceptance Tests, for example, we are using remote tools and services like video conferencing to keep customers operating at optimal levels. “We believe each of these partnerships is a great example of innovation and that a number of initiatives from the current COVID-19 situation will lead to more innovation. It’s incredible to see the energy and efforts across the industry in testing different possibilities, rapidly, while maintaining the necessary safety measures.”



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