Pfizer is to start producing supplies of its Covid-19 vaccine from its Grange Castle plant in Dublin as part of a new $40 million investment locally, the company confirmed on Wednesday.
The Grange Castle facility will produce the mRNA drug substance, making it only the second plant outside of Pfizer’s flagship factory in Andover, Massachusetts to do so. Drug substance is the essential active ingredient in the vaccine.
The new multimillion-euro investment is on top of a €300 million programme of investment announced for three of Pfizer’s Irish plants last year.
The company said it will be creating an additional 75 jobs as part of the new investment. Building and securing regulatory approval for vaccine plants is a process that normally takes around two years, but the company said the urgent focus on Covid-19 vaccine supplies means it expects to be ready to go live around the end of this year.
The announcement means the Irish plant will be centrally involved in the rollout of Covid vaccine supplies to countries outside the United States from year end.
"This is a very significant moment for Ireland and for our Grange Castle site. We are immensely proud to be able to play a part in manufacturing Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine," said Dr Paul Duffy, vice-president of global supply.
Pfizer’s vaccine is currently being assessed by European regulators for use in young adults from the age of 12. The company is also running a separate trial on the performance of the vaccine, developed in association with German company BioNTech, in children from the age of six months to 11 years of age.
And the drug giant is in ongoing talks with the European Union over an agreement to supply an additional 1.8 billion doses to the bloc's 27 member states, which was flagged by the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, earlier this month.
Pfizer has been significantly increasing commitments on vaccine supply since first securing approval for the vaccine in mid-December. It initially expected to produce just 1.3 billion doses worldwide in 2021. That has since jumped to 1.7 billion, then two billion and, more recently, 2.5 billion. And that figure could yet rise as high as three billion this year.
That would translate into a full-year supply of about four billion doses.
That has involved upgrading existing plants – including Puurs in Belgium, which is Pfizer's only European plant producing Covid-19 vaccine currently – as well as signing a third-party supply deal with vaccine giant Sanofi to boost supplies.
It is understood Pfizer has been examining options in Europe to expand vaccine production over recent months as the need to scale up became evident. Grange Castle is one of just six biologics plants the US drug giant has in Europe – including Puurs. It was already involved in the company's Covid vaccine programme as a testing site for batches of the vaccine before they were put on the market.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said it was an “historic announcement”.
“As we rapidly step up vaccine rollout, in Ireland, in Europe and across the globe, today’s news is a fantastic development that will see Ireland fully play its part in this generational challenge,” he said.
IDA Ireland chief executive Martin Shanahan said the decision was “a strong vote of confidence in the skills, expertise and capability to manufacture this mRNA drug substance here”.
Ireland would have a “central role to play in the [global] Covid-19 response” as a result of Wednesday announcement, Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Leo Varadkar said.