COVID-19 has boosted bioprocessing technology sector revenues with leading suppliers all reporting higher demand. Efforts to develop a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine are accelerating. According to the WHO, 25 vaccines are in clinical development, four times as many as in March. There are also 139 SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates in preclinical development.
And the surge in vaccine R&D has increased demand for bioprocessing technologies. In July, Danaher, which owns Pall and Cytiva, reported a 19% hike in second quarter revenue and a 26% jump in net income. Company executives cited COVID-19-related demand was a major driver.
Danaher CEO Tom Joyce told analysts, “Pall’s and Cytiva’s products and solutions are involved in the majority of the more than 200 vaccine and therapeutic projects currently underway around the world, including participation on every COVID-19 vaccine that is in human clinical trials today.
“The recent surge in COVID-19 related research and development among our biotech and pharmaceutical customers is generating strong demand for our bioprocessing genomic and automation solutions.”
Joyce predicted similar COVID-19 related growth in the third quarter.
“We anticipate COVID-19 related revenue tailwinds will be similar to what we saw in the second quarter. By segment, we expect core revenue growth at Life Sciences to be up double-digit—low double-digits, Diagnostics up high single-digits, and Environmental & Applied Solutions to be approximately flat.”
The story was similar at Thermo Fisher Scientific. The firm said a 10% increase in revenue was due in large part to $1.3 billion generated by COVID-19 related technologies and services.
Like Danaher, Thermo Fisher plays in the bioproduction technology, diagnostics, and manufacturing space. And it is the latter business where it will see COVID-19 related growth, according to CEO Marc Casper.
“What I would expect, should there be a successful vaccine, is that, the role of a company like Thermo Fisher and certainly the CDMO industry more generally will play a significant role, based on the fact that the ramp-up under every scenario would be very dramatic.
“We’ve been very active in those projects and many of the high-profile projects that you read about. We are either providing raw materials from our bioproduction or biosciences business to having roles in the production ultimately of what I’ll call drug substance or vaccine substance in certain cases, and certainly a very meaningful role in the sterile fill-finish with a final packaging form that a vaccine would be administered.”
Sartorius Stedim Biotech has also received a COVID-19 related boost. The firm saw revenue for the first half of the year increase 18% to $1.05 billion.
CEO Joachim Kreuzburg said, “Growth was strong across all product categories and regions, and additional demand related to COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics, in particular, was higher than previously expected.”
The firm also raised its full-year earnings and revenue growth, citing COVID-19.
“Upward revision of the forecast is partly related to the current COVID-19 pandemic as Sartorius Stedim Biotech products are used for manufacturing both vaccines and antiviral medications,” continued Kreuzburg.
Flexibility and global reach
The bioprocessing sector is well placed to capitalize on increased demand, according to Eric Langer from BioPlan Associates, who said the industry is used to responding to its customers’ evolving demands.
“Flexibility has become a major consideration in facility design, and the selection of technologies, equipment, and CMOs,” he told GEN. “This adaptability is already helping the industry retool for rapid development and production of pandemic vaccines, therapeutics, equipment, and diagnostics; while also responding to changes that this worldwide mobilization of resources will bring to the industry.”
The global nature of the biopharmaceutical industry is also likely to help bioprocessing tech firms meet demand, Langer said. “More bioprocessing is likely to be done in more places, including more outside the major hubs such as Boston and San Francisco. This globalization will accelerate with more multi-site facilities internationally. More facilities have been coming online to serve regional markets, including China, and the pandemic will accelerate the trend toward supply chain and bioprocessing facilities’ diffusion worldwide.”
Increasing demand is benefitting technology suppliers at present. But if it continues some suppliers may struggle, Langer said, citing single-use technologies as an area of concern.
“Because pandemic-related bioprocessing process lines and facilities are or will generally be single-use system (SUS)-based, suppliers are concerned about future shortages. Already, there is a worldwide shortage of some of the key high-purity polymers, causing increased lead times,” he pointed out. “Suppliers are concerned the uptick in pandemic-related vaccines and therapeutics development and, particularly, related manufacturing will result in shortages of SUS supplies.”
According to Langer, most pandemic-related vaccines and therapeutics manufacturing efforts will be scaled-up or -out at unprecedented world-class scales.
“Assuming just two or three pandemic-related vaccines or biotherapeutics enter the market, each will likely require manufacture of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of doses/year,” he said. “This will require multiple facilities. For example, vaccine manufacturing could involve 4,000 SUS bioreactors/year with total output of eight million liters of culture media/year.”