How Contract Manufacturing Organizations Played a Pivotal Role in Fighting the COVID-19 Pandemic

Over the last year, the world has learned a lot about CMOs and CDMOs – organizations that make treatments and vaccines to prevent the spread of viruses with the potential to slow life as we know it to a crawl. International CMOs work with major pharmaceutical manufacturers, as well as their researchers, to produce powerful and vital medicines at massive scale, as they have with the COVID-19 vaccine. The investments behind these treatments can require billions of dollars.

To tackle the COVID-19 pandemic head on, companies needed to build new plants, use new equipment, and adopt new management systems, to name just three major changes that had to occur. As established global leaders, they brought new ideas and innovative concepts to the forefront in order to help the world navigate its greatest health crisis in a century.

Major CMOs and their Achievements

There are a number of CMOs who grew their operations in 2020 and 2021. With locations all over the world, they provide highly skilled talent with the tools and technologies they need to create COVID-19 treatments, as well as vaccines.

1. Samsung Biologics

Samsung Biologics is a leading CDMO in global pharmaceuticals. The company is currently in the midst of a $1.7 billion expansion, having just broken ground on the fourth plant at its bio campus in Incheon, South Korea. This adds 256,000 liters in manufacturing capacity to the company’s operations, but isn’t the end of their current plans to expand. Samsung Biologics also recently opened a CDO research and development (R&D) facility in San Francisco, California, USA, and plan to expand further with facilities coming in both Boston, Massachusetts and in Europe.

Furthermore, Samsung Biologics partnered with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca for manufacturing of drugs. EVP of AstraZeneca Pam Cheng stated, “This long-term partnership with Samsung Biologics strengthens our manufacturing capabilities, and ensures we are well-positioned to continue to deliver our exciting portfolio of new and established biologics medicines to patients with quality, speed and efficiency.”  

Samsung Biologics has garnered respect across the biologics industry for its ability to complete fast tech transfers, its cGMP facilities, and best-in-industry aseptic fill and finish services–all of which ensure that partners and clients are satisfied when a project is complete.

2. Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies

Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies doubled its output in 2020 when it invested over $900 million USD into a plant in Denmark. It further increased its capacity when it invested $55 million in a therapies innovation center in Texas, $83 million to triple microbial production in the United Kingdom, and made additional investment to grow manufacturing at its facility in North Carolina. In fact, Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies’ facility in Texas is the largest manufacturing facility for cell culture in the United States.

This CMO also announced that it had won a contract with Texas A&M’s University System Center for Innovation in Advanced Development & Manufacturing to work on new candidates to vaccinate against COVID-19. Dr. Gerry Farrell, CEO, said, “After several months of intense preparation and hard work, we are ready to produce two vaccine candidates locally here in College Station.” He added, “We are pleased to bring our technical expertise and world-class facilities to support the mission of Operation Warp Speed in bringing a safe and effective vaccine to the world.”

3. Catalent

In 2020, Catalent acquired a prominent CDMO, MaSTherCell Global. They also acquired facilities in Belgium and Texas focused on gene and cell therapies, an investment that cost them approximately $315 million. In Maryland, they then spent $130 million to expand their existing facilities by adding five more suites capable of Phase III manufacturing to its gene therapy operations.

Furthermore, the company has announced a number of major partnerships with drug companies. Most notably, it worked with AstraZeneca to create drug substances for the COVID-19 vaccine, with the company’s Maryland facility overseeing that portion of the contract. In the words of Catalent President Manja Boerman, “Catalent has significant experience in viral vector manufacturing. We are pleased to have the capabilities at our flagship Catalent Gene Therapy site to expand our support for the AstraZeneca program, while continuing to serve our current gene therapy customers. Our gene therapy team is proud to join our Catalent Biologics colleagues at the Anagni site in the advancement of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate.”

Additionally, Catalent also partnered with Moderna to oversee manufacture of its COVID-19 vaccine. CEO John Chiminski said, “Catalent’s proven expertise in manufacturing scale-up and commercial production are well suited to support Moderna’s efforts to prepare for wide-scale supply of this vaccine candidate so that it is available if appropriate to address the pandemic.”

4. Thermo Fisher Scientific

Thermo Fisher Scientific recently built 15 commercial and development production lines across both the United States and Europe, with new facilities built in North Carolina, Italy, and the United Kingdom. The company also has plans to build new facilities in China and Singapore in the years to come.

Thermo Fisher Scientific also works to manufacture and prepare freezers for storing COVID-19 vaccine at its optimal temperature of -94 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the words of Dr. Alex Esmon, General Manager,

“The fact is, we’ve been looking at this for months. As soon as we knew mRNA vaccines were going to be in play, we started projecting and planning from a supply chain perspective.”