July 28, 2020 / 4:10 PM / 10 days ago

Germany's IDT warns against equipment price hike in scramble for COVID-19 vaccine

BERLIN/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - A scramble to produce COVID-19 vaccines is pushing up prices for some bottling equipment and other raw materials, adding to industry concerns about limited output, a German vaccine maker told Reuters.

A June 24, 2020 handout photo received from biotech company IDT Biologika in Dessau-Rosslau, Germany, on July 28, 2020, shows employees Bjoern Dalichau and Andreas Mueller preparing the filling of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate. Hartmut Boesener/IDT Biologika/Handout via Reuters

Family-owned IDT Biologika produces viral vaccines for pharmaceutical companies and is working on six COVID-19 projects including AstraZeneca’s experimental vaccine which has been co-developed by Oxford University.

Based in Dessau-Rosslau in east Germany, IDT said it is seeing bottlenecks for equipment like vials and had seen a few cases of suppliers hiking prices.

“Our joint efforts to increase output volumes go hand in hand with a need to have a responsible handling of prices to keep production costs under control,” Chief Science Officer Andreas Neubert said in an interview.

“We have seen such examples (of price hikes) and those were even quite considerable mark-ups,” he added, declining to give further details on which suppliers had increased prices.

The comments underscore growing concerns in the industry about the hurdles of making, packaging and distributing billions of doses all at once.

IDT, which has been in business for almost 100 years, has applied to the German government for a 170 million euro ($199 million) grant to help it expand its development and testing and production capacities.

IDT plans to build a new production line which will have capacity to bottle an additional 380 million vaccine doses per year, Neubert said.

Chief Executive Juergen Betzing said the company was only able to fill a small part of the requests to fill vaccines as they already had full order books. To take on additional clients, they have to postpone other customers.

IDT is working with the German Centre for Infection Research (DZIF) and partners in Munich, Marburg and Hamburg on its own so-called viral vector vaccine and hopes to start early-stage testing on some 100 people in Germany in September.

It aims to have capacity to produce up to 50 million doses per year of the experimental vaccine which is based on the Modified Vaccinia Ankara Virus developed for smallpox, Betzing said.

Because the new vaccine is underpinned by proven technology, it is likely to be safe and therefore potentially useful for certain risk groups, such as elderly people, he added.

More than 150 vaccine candidates are in various stages of development, with 23 prospects in human trials across the globe. Moderna and Pfizer have launched two late-stage studies that could clear the way for regulatory approval by the end of the year.

Reporting by Caroline Copley and Ludwig Burger; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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