Wacker Biotech is producing millions of vaccines in Amsterdam
Dr Jörg Lindemann, Managing Director of Wacker Biotech in Amsterdam, says his team has pulled out all the stops to boost vaccine supplies in the past years. He credits the Dutch capital as a magnet for expertise and collaboration.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the world’s attention was firmly set on vaccines as a near-certain way out of crippling lockdowns. Vaccine manufacturers found themselves on the battlefront against COVID-19, bolstering plants and processes to meet the massive demand for life-saving doses. German chemical firm Wacker Biotech has been making vaccines at its Amsterdam site for more than 20 years. After investing around €50m in its Zuidoost plant, and it can now produce large volumes of mRNA-based vaccines, the type created by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, and CureVac in Germany.
Dr Jörg Lindemann is managing director of Wacker Biotech’s Amsterdam site. He told I amsterdam how the firm geared up its operations, and how Amsterdam’s abundance of expertise and strong life sciences ecosystem makes the city a great place to invest and collaborate.
What were the main challenges during the pandemic and what were your successes?
We set up a new production line for mRNA-based vaccines and are currently working to transfer the production process for CureVac’s CVnCoV vaccine candidate. Something like that would normally take up to a year, but over the past few months, we’ve pulled out all the stops in order to accelerate that process. We’ve also modified our expansion project to make that happen. We’re making good progress right now. We never would have been able to pull it off without the dedication of our employees here on site and of our internal and external partners.
How is Wacker Biotech involved in the production of COVID-19 vaccines?
Our current plans are to produce the mRNA drug substance for CureVac’s coronavirus vaccine (CVnCoV) in our capacity as a contract manufacturer. We’re planning to manufacture numerous drug substance batches which will translate to 100 million doses of the CureVac vaccine per year at the Amsterdam site once the vaccine has been approved.
What makes Amsterdam a good location for vaccine production?
Amsterdam is a great location with a lot of talented people and has a well established infrastructure. The Wacker Biotech site in Amsterdam has been making vaccines as a contract manufacturer for over 20 years and has expertise in the field. In recent months, we’ve laid the groundwork for manufacturing new gene-based vaccines, such as CureVac’s mRNA-based vaccine. Here in Amsterdam we have the expertise, the right environment and the prerequisites for manufacturing that kind of vaccine quickly.
How do new variants of COVID-19 affect production and what is the process of adjusting a vaccine?
We might end up having to adjust the mRNA “cocktail”; that discussion is currently underway both in public and among the companies putting vaccines into circulation. The authorities will then review those adjustments through an accelerated approval process. We don’t expect the process of adapting mRNA-based vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 to take long, since it would probably mean adding another mRNA for, say, the modified spike protein. The change would then go back through what would likely be an accelerated approval process with the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
How does Wacker Biotech connect to and collaborate with Amsterdam’s life sciences and health sector?
Development in the life sciences and health sector in Amsterdam has been very positive. A lot of companies – startups too – have located here in recent years in places like IQuarters in the Life Sciences District. We rented offices there last year as well, because we needed the extra space. I’m confident we’re going to see a lively exchange of ideas there, possibly even the development of cooperative ventures. We also value the support Amsterdam’s local representatives provide the sector.
How has the arrival of the EMA in Amsterdam benefited your work and collaborations?
We work closely with the Dutch public health inspection agency (IGJ). The authorities regularly review and inspect our plants and production facilities for compliance with regulations. Our physical proximity to the EMA is also very helpful when it comes to obtaining approval for our customers’ products. Customers who have appointments with the EMA can easily combine these with a visit to our Amsterdam site. That’s a real advantage of our location.