EXPLAINS: Why Pfizer needs time to do COVID-19 treatment

EXPLAINS: Why Pfizer needs time to do COVID-19 treatment

Pfizer’s new COVID-19 treatment came with a catch when it debuted at the end of last year: Stocks were limited and it can take months to manufacture the tablets.

Business executives say they are expanding production and expect big gains in the coming months. It could help if another wave of cases develops.


The US government distributes Paxlovid, the first pill approved to treat coronavirus. White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said Wednesday that the government will have 1 million treatment courses available this month. He expects it to more than double in April.

Pfizer Chief Global Supply Officer Mike McDermott says there is “an ample amount” of Paxlovid available to high-risk patients who need it.

Doctors also have several other treatment options, including a less effective capsule treatment from Merck, which U.S. regulators say should only be considered if other options are not available or appropriate.

Dr. Raymund Razonable of the Mayo Clinic said Paxlovid supplies would need to be increased if another increase occurs, similar to the one recently caused by the omicron variant.


The short answer: It is a complex drug that involves chemical reactions that need time to develop.

Pfizer’s production experts compare Paxlovid to a complicated Lego model, where key parts are manufactured in different places and then brought together and combined.

The initial building blocks can take up to three months to make. Some chemical reactions need days to develop at a controlled temperature and pressure.

“If you put it all together very quickly, it can all go wrong,” said Charlotte Allerton, Pfizer’s head of medical design.

These initial building blocks are sent to another site that makes up the bulk of the drug, the active ingredient. Continue for another three months for that process.

Then the ingredient goes to an extra place that turns it into tablets and packs the medicine. It can take six weeks. Add another week for quality checks and tests.

Paxlovid’s production involves more than 20 different locations in over 10 countries.


No. Pfizer executives say some drugs for other conditions take even longer.

The company said it has already shaved the average Paxlovid production time down to around seven months from close to nine.

The drug manufacturer is adding more manufacturing and packaging sites. It will try to cut production time further as long as it can do so without affecting quality.

Merck says it takes about six months to make its treatment, molnupiravir. The company expects to reduce it to about five over time.


Pfizer does not have time to build a plant just to make Paxlovid.

Merck also uses 17 plants in eight countries to produce molnupiravir.

“If you knew you would make this product for 10 years on a given scale, you would probably build a factory just for it, but otherwise that’s the way we typically do business,” said John McGrath, a senior vice president. in Merck. Chairman.


The company began preparations in June, about six months before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the drug. That was also before the researchers completed studies at the late stage of its effectiveness.

Pfizer made its first commercial batch of the active ingredient in scale in September. The company then had to wait for FDA approval before it could package and label.

The drug maker spent about $ 1 billion to get that head start, said Paul Duffy, vice president of Pfizer Global Supply.


Yes. McDermott said Pfizer expects to make 30 million patient packages by the middle of the year and 120 million by the end of 2022.

President Joe Biden announced Tuesday night that his administration will launch a “test to treat” plan involving the delivery of free antiviral pills at pharmacies to customers who test positive for the virus.

When a spokesman was asked if Pfizer could handle additional requirements from that program, a spokesman said the company was “confident in our supply capacity.” He added that the drug manufacturer is still on track to deliver 10 million treatment courses to the US government by June.


AP video journalist Emma H. ​​Tobin contributed to this report.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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