Engineering experts point to inexperience, and differences in culture
WITH Covid-19 vaccine manufacture making headlines for all the wrong reasons, experts from the pharmaceutical engineering sector have shed light on the production challenges facing AstraZeneca.
Tensions in Europe have risen after a production problem at a contract manufacturing facility used by AstraZeneca in Belgium left the EU facing a shortfall of 60% fewer doses than it was expecting this quarter. With EU leaders under pressure because of the bloc’s relatively slow vaccine rollout, and fears spreading about “vaccine nationalism”, Belgian authorities sent inspectors to the factory in January to make sure the delay is due to production problems, a spokesperson told The Guardian.
AstraZeneca has yet to respond to a request for details on the specific production issues faced.
The three experts all made a point of praising the quick progress AstraZeneca has made in developing and manufacturing a vaccine under the circumstances.
“Rather than seeing this on the negative side, they’ve done remarkably well,” said Peter Dodd, the Covid-19 Response Project Manager for the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering UK Affiliate (ISPE UK).
They’ve shortcut a development process that would normally take several years. So, I think they have done a remarkable job
Tim Clayton, Director of CMC at biopharmaceutical firm Antev, and a member of IChemE’s Covid-19 Response Team, echoed the sentiment: “Clearly there are going to be hiccups on the way. They’ve shortcut a development process that would normally take several years. So, I think they have done a remarkable job getting where they are. I don’t think we should underestimate that.”
“They’ve done a phenomenal job,” said Adam Hawthorne, a biochemical engineer and an ISPE UK Board Member.
Yet all agreed a setback was highly likely given that AstraZeneca has limited experience in viral vector vaccine development.
“Vaccines, amongst all the biologics I’ve worked on are the most sensitive processes,” said Dodd.
This article is adapted from an earlier online version.
Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.