Maryland company working to accelerate coronavirus vaccine production

A Maryland company with a history of manufacturing products associated with supplying the Strategic National Stockpile has taken on a new mission – accelerating the production of the coronavirus vaccine.

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Emergent BioSolutions, which is headquartered in Montgomery County, has partnered with Johnson & Johnson, as well as AstraZeneca to produce what Executive Vice President Sean Kirk calls "the bulk drug substance, or the active pharmaceutical ingredient" for the vaccines.
Emergent BioSolutions – which has a global footprint – is the "middle step" in the manufacturing process, Kirk says. 

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The company was initially involved in manufacturing the anthrax vaccine around the turn of the century, but then branched out into biological warfare solutions.

In addition, they were instrumental in developing Narcan, a drug used to combat the effects of opioid overdoses.

But they always had an eye toward helping find solutions for potential global pandemics, and that effort is based in Maryland.

"We have a 22 year history of partnering with the U.S. government including the anthrax vaccine, we’re also the owners of Narcan nasal spray, the opioid reversal product, but we also have a very important arm, which this facility is the manifestation of that arm around pandemic preparedness," Kirk said, referencing their Baltimore facility.

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"This partnership with the U.S. government goes back to 2012. We built this facility out for about six or seven years, and then the pandemic happened. And we’re happy to be playing a very significant role in the fight against COVID-19," Kirk said.

The company was part of Operation Warp Speed, hiring 800 people in the last year alone to ramp up their capacity to produce the vaccine.

The pressure on the employees to get the job done fast, and to get it done right, is immense.

But Kirk says they don’t lack for motivation.

"We’ve been working long and hard – the folks you see here in the facility have been working many many months to ramp up this capacity to get this manufacturing cadence flowing. The thing that helps them persevere is the fact that they will produce, and are producing, hundreds of millions of doses, protecting hundreds of millions of lives – assuming FDA authorization and authorizations abroad – and that is potentially tens of millions of lives saved. So it’s a very powerful motivator," Kirk said.