Vaccine plant for Dublin future proofs Pfizer network in Ireland

Cantillon: 75 jobs and $40m investment bring mRNA technology into State

The Grange Castle plant, originally built by Wyeth before it merged with Pfizer, is state-of-the-art and has plenty of space for expansion. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The Grange Castle plant, originally built by Wyeth before it merged with Pfizer, is state-of-the-art and has plenty of space for expansion. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Pfizer’s announcement that it will build a new vaccines business at its Grange Castle plant in Dublin is that rarity – unadulterated good news. Alongside the 75 jobs and the $40 million investment, the decision serves to future proof a key part of Pfizer’s network in Ireland.

Grange Castle was chosen from among five biologics operations that Pfizer runs in Europe (as well as Puurs in Belgium, which is already churning out doses of the vaccine).

The plant, originally built by Wyeth before it merged with Pfizer, is state-of-the-art and has plenty of space for expansion. And it was already involved in the Covid vaccine operation, testing batches before they were supplied to countries worldwide.

Rapid investment

Pfizer has moved fast in pharmaceutical investment terms. The Covid vaccine, developed with Germany’s BioNTech, was only approved five months ago. At that time, new vaccine plants weren’t on the radar in Dublin or anywhere else in Europe, in part because of the lead-in time for their development.

But huge demand for the vaccine, the emerging realisation that boosters will be required (making this a longer-term project), more recent approval for teenagers and the expected future use also in younger children, alongside supply and development issues for other vaccine candidates, especially among the traditional vaccine powerhouses, have all conspired to require a rapid scaling-up of production.

Growth area

And, as with the vaccines themselves, a pandemic-driven focus has shortened timelines to delivery of such new plant dramatically. Grange Castle is expected to be onstream by year end.

Quite apart from Covid-19, vaccines are a major growth area in medicines and one where Ireland does not have a strong foothold. Up to now, MSD’s Carlow operation was the only vaccine plant of note in the State.

The vaccines Grange Castle will produce use the new mRNA technology at the heart of the successful Pfizer/BioNTech Covid shot. It is very early days yet – all the Covid vaccines are still operating on emergency use approvals – but the companies using the mRNA technology are very upbeat about the ability to fine tune it quickly and cheaply to a whole range of Covid variants and other vaccine needs. Good news indeed.

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