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'Unprecedented' pace of COVID-19 drug development pushing Madison companies to expand

'Unprecedented' pace of COVID-19 drug development pushing Madison companies to expand

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Spurred on by the push to end the COVID-19 pandemic, Catalent Biologics is rapidly expanding its Madison facilities and staff to account for increased production of substances used by various pharmaceutical companies around the world.

Catalent manufactures the drug substances — or active ingredients — which are used to make the final drug given to patients. Now, the company is working to combat COVID-19 by working with pharmaceutical companies developing treatments and vaccines.

“We’ve actually gotten to the point where we are significantly busier now than we were,” said Graham Brearley, general manager of the Madison facility.

In response to the uptick in production needs, Catalent accelerated its existing plans to open the new facilities.

The 60,000-square-foot manufacturing expansion to the facility is now on schedule to open halfway through next year.

Along with the facility expansion, the company plans to add about 150 more employees to its current staff of about 400 to support manufacturing and the work being done with companies developing solutions for the pandemic.

Dr. Anthony Fauci: "If you look at how we've been hit; we've been hit badly.

Also: "None of us have ever been told to slow down on testing. That just is a fact. In fact, we will be doing more testing...not less."

Full coronavirus hearing video here:

“It’s unprecedented, the pace at which these programs are moving,” Brearley said, referring to the development of new drugs for COVID-19.

One such company, California-based Humanigen, developed its COVID-19 therapy, lenzilumab, using Catalent products and further contracted with Catalent for development, manufacturing and commercialization services. Though still in clinical trials, Humanigen has reported positive results for patients who used lenzilumab, based on early data.

Arcturus and Spicona are developing different types of COVID-19 vaccines and working with Catalent for manufacturing. Both companies have worked with Catalent in the research and development state of their vaccines and could continue to contract with Catalent to make the active ingredients if the vaccines are approved for sale.

Manufacturing for these three companies and more is being done at the Madison facility, Brearley said.

Many fighting disease

Catalent is far from the only business in Madison fighting to end the pandemic.

At Promega, there are now employees working around the clock to manufacture materials and reagents used in more than 450 million COVID-19 tests worldwide. Demand for Promega products and materials has increased 10-fold since this time last year, vice president of manufacturing operations Chuck York said.

Promega also works with contracted companies to share expertise and make the testing process more efficient.

Three of Promega’s own products were also added to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention diagnostic protocol for COVID-19, and a test from the company to detect COVID-19 antibodies has been submitted for Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization, senior global strategic marketing manager Terri McDonnell said.

Exact Sciences opened up lab space, which could be used to process its Cologuard cancer-screening tests, to process COVID-19 tests and help the state turn around results to patients more quickly. The company provides supplies needed for collection and processes tens of thousands of tests per week to help the state’s community testing efforts, spokesman Scott Larrivee said.

Exact Sciences stock soars with acquisitions of 2 blood-based cancer screening firms for $2.56B

GoDx is developing a paper-based COVID-19 test which could cut down on the cost of testing because it wouldn’t require any specialized equipment to process and could provide results within half an hour. The company has applied for FDA emergency use authorization to get the test to market early next year, CEO Chang Hee Kim said.

FluGen and Pan Genome Systems are both developing vaccines for COVID-19, though neither company has reached the phase of clinical testing in humans, officials with the companies said.

FluGen, which has been working with research from UW-Madison for years on developing a universal flu vaccine — one that wouldn’t have to be updated each year, as the flu shot is now — is incorporating a coronavirus vaccine into its plans, though president and CEO Paul Radspinner said there is no timeline for getting the vaccine to human studies as of yet.

Pan Genome Systems, another Madison company working on a vaccine for COVID-19, found in a study — which is currently under review — that its vaccine could work in mice, said founder Adel Talaat. Pan Genome is now working to secure more funding to test the vaccine in more animal subjects before moving to human trials.


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