While Pfizer was able to reuse some of its equipment at its main manufacturing facility in Kalamazoo, most of what is there now wasn’t there a year ago.
“Pfizer put nearly $ 2 billion at risk on the overall program. From the time it was made, my team spent $ 500 million before we even got out of clinical trials. So everything was at risk. We didn’t know see if we had a product that did that would work, “said McDermott.
Before Pfizer decided on its final vaccine candidate, it considered four different options. That meant McDermott and his team had to be ready to go in any direction.
“I’m thinking about it, we’re going to have dinner tonight and we have to get the dessert ready, but I don’t know what dessert we have. So you just start buying ingredients,” he said. “Maybe we’ll make a cake, maybe we’ll make brownies. Let’s bring in the standard materials we need. So this pantry was pretty, pretty expensive to fill up.”
According to McDermott, one of the biggest rate-limiting steps in this production was the availability of raw materials and especially lipids, the fatty substance that safely houses the mRNA until it can get into our cells.
“Lipid nanoparticles weren’t used in a large commercial product. So the lipid suppliers weren’t very large. So we’re working very closely with them to build more lipid capacity and actually make lipids at this location in Kalamazoo, Michigan,” said McDermott .