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Local vaccine push may prevent 'price gouging' and supply hurdles

Business

The push is on for Brisbane companies to manufacture a potential COVID-19 vaccine.

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Industry group Life Sciences Queensland is calling for local imput into the vaccine to fill gaps that can’t be filled by the potential national domestic manufacturer CSL.

CSL is in the front of the queue for both the UQ and Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccines that are in human trials now, but LSQ said Queensland biomanufacturing companies Luina Bio and Thermo Fisher Scientific were capable of eliminating the nation’s reliance on foreign providers when a vaccine candidate becomes available.

LSQ chief executive Clare Blain said there was no single manufacturing company in the world that has the capability to meet the global needs for a COVID-19 vaccine.

“It is now more important than ever for the cooperation of organisations to leverage current capabilities to ensure the need is met and reduce the opportunity for price gouging,” she said.

She said using Luina Bio and Thermo Fisher’s existing Queensland-based manufacturing facilities would drastically reduce the time and taxpayer dollars required to develop new manufacturing facilities from the ground up, as has been previously suggested by other players in the industry.

While CSL was considered capable of delivering on its current work, there were other vaccine prospects which it may not have the capacity to manufacture.

The issue for Australia was the lack of a “finish and fill” facility which is where the vaccine is added to vials for distribution and that would take funding of about $20 million. Luina Bio is currently developing a $50 million facility.

With a “fill and finish” facility Luina Bio could produce about 250,000 doses of a vaccine a week at its expanded Darra location, with construction proposed to commence by the end of this year on the enhanced facility.

Blain said Queensland’s expertise and capabilities in the biomanufacturing space would be vital in ensuring Australians have access to a vaccine in a timely manner.

“Australia’s onshore capability to manufacture and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine to our population is a national issue, and Queensland is at the forefront to plug that gap and bring together the capabilities to meet the needs of our country, ensuring we don’t fall behind the rest of the world in terms of a pandemic response,” she said.

“Not only do organisations like Luina Bio and Thermo Fisher already have the baseline infrastructure and staff in place to build upon in terms of large-scale vaccine production, but their expertise in cGMP manufacture is a capability that is difficult to replicate in new facilities without years of experience and stringent processes in place.”

“Between the two Queensland organisations — with funded fill and finish facility expansions in place — Australia would have the capability to commercially manufacture vaccines using the leading platforms utilised by most of the vaccine candidates including DNA or RNA based vaccines, recombinant proteins, peptides and potentially virus-like particle based vaccines.

Luina Bio chief executive Les Tillack said with the appropriate state and federal funding, it would have the ability to complete the entire commercial manufacturing process from production to vial, in as little as nine to 12 months.

“It’s important that the state and federal governments work smart in this situation, and ensure we aren’t pouring taxpayer dollars into re-creating infrastructure that already exists here in Queensland,” he said.

Thermo Fisher’s Brisbane general manager Kym Baker said self-sufficiency was important and once the facility was in place it would enhance Australia’s ability to keep the production of biomaterials.

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