Vaccines Requiring Lipids Raise Demand

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Pfizer and BioNTech are seeing to scale up the production of lipids, the method in which the m-RNA vaccines are delivered into people’s cells. Sierk Poetting, BioNTech’s chief financial officer said of their need for lipids, “We need kilos and kilos and kilos of that stuff.” The new vaccines for Covid-19 require lipids in order to be effective.  The Messenger RNA, the genetic tech the vaccines are founded on, requires a “protective shell” of the fatty particles.  Without them the mRNA vaccines cannot get into human cells. 

President Joe Biden, touring a Michigan factory last month alongside Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said, “This is an incredibly complex process.” He noted that the vaccine manufacturing companies are “pioneering technologies that less than a year ago were little more than theories and aspirations.”

Bob Langer, American chemical engineer, has been researching the RNA process since the 70’s.  “Everybody told me it was impossible,” he said, “I got my first nine grants rejected. Couldn’t get a faculty job.” I don’t think people realized just how important the delivery systems are to all kinds of medicines.”  He continued, “If you get more and more complex medicines, like RNA and DNA and things like that, you’ll see more and more work on delivery systems and more and more problems will be solved. Lipid nanoparticles are going to be a big piece of the arsenal.”

In 2018 the RNA delivery method saw it’s first real breakthrough when the United States FDA approved an mRNA therapy to treat a genetic disease that caused nerve and heart damage.  It is different from what we are using today in the Covid-19 vaccines, but they also used lipid particles to deliver the therapy.  Moderna has designed its own lipids for delivery of their vaccine, whereas BioNTech licensed theirs from the same company that developed them initially.  Thomas Madden who worked with Alnylam Therapeutics on developing those lipids worked with Pfizer and BioNTech and came up with a way to quickly get the clinical trials underway.

The demand for the lipids are sky high now with an additional 2 billion doses of Pfizer’s vaccine planned.  Thomas Riermeier, head of the company’s health-care unit said, “Typically, this process in the pharma industry takes a year or two.  What’s required here is to do this more or less in a couple of months”

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