By Keely Arthur, WRAL reporter
Morrisville, N.C. — The Triangle has joined the race to find a coronavirus vaccine, with a Morrisville company manufacturing one of the candidate drugs.
Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies is working with Novavax, a Maryland firm that recently won a $1.6 billion federal contract to develop a vaccine. While Novavax is the brains behind the effort, Diosynth, a contract manufacturer specializes in vaccine and gene therapy production, is the muscle.
“We’re the supporting act,” Diosynth Chief Business Officer Andy Fenny said Friday. “We don’t own the technology that is being used. We are enabling them to get to market as quickly as they possibly can.”
“Quickly” is the operative word for President Donald Trump, who will visit the Diosynth plant on Monday to tout his administration’s Operation Warp Speed, which is trying to compress the years-long process of vaccine development into a matter of months.
Novavax’s vaccine is in a Phase 1 clinical trial and is expected to move into Phase 2 in mid-August and Phase 3 in the fall.
“The team in North Carolina have basically dropped everything [and] worked overtime,” Fenny said. “They are killing themselves to ensure that we can get this product out into the clinic as soon as we possibly can.”
Trump’s visit only adds to the “little bit crazy” atmosphere at the Morrisville plant, he said.
“I think that our team are so pumped that they are being recognized for the work that they’ve done,” he said. “We’ve had a number of people from the advance team come to the site to walk down the routes that president will take as he moves around the site, just to make sure that he sees everything he wants to see while he’s here.”
Dr. Barton Haynes, an immunology expert at Duke University, said research into and development of vaccines for HIV and other diseases are allowing companies to work at break-neck speed on a coronavirus vaccine without sacrificing safety.
“All of that technology was developed in the HIV vaccines field,” Haynes said. “All of these companies and all of these investigators – now there are 150 groups around the world who are working on this problem – they’re using all this technology. So, we love it that there are a lot of people working on this problem so that a solution to this problem can be found very quickly. So, we want a lot of shots on goal.”
Haynes said he’s confident there will be a vaccine for the public no later than next summer and possibly as early as January.
Fenny said that, if another of the vaccine candidates is eventually approved for distribution, Diosynth will work with that developer to produce doses to distribute to the public.
“We have taken the essence of Operation Warp Speed and really demonstrated it,” he said. “Our team … has taken all their technical expertise, and we are applying all the capacity that we have on the ground in North Carolina to do work in a couple of weeks that would normally take months.”