The head of the British company that supplies a critical component of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has warned that avoiding disruption to Brexit will be a “critical step” in ensuring it is available to millions of people.
Yorkshire-based Croda International provided a key chemical ingredient for a vaccine to Pfizer in the trial phase, and won a five-year contract that would provide materials for 1.3 billion doses next year alone, worth around £ 75 million.
Dosage is a huge challenge, and whether or not dealing, the UK will have new customs controls from 1 January.
With the government warning of delays at the border of up to 48 hours, Croda CEO Steve Vouts told Sky News that Brexit poses a risk.
He said: “Anxiety of course, the last thing we need, is the problem of not having an agreement, and there is friction at the border, and I’m sure the UK government is fully aware of that.”
“We have to make sure that the vaccine does not have any problems getting into the UK, or in the supply chain, or even practical issues of refrigeration technologies and everything else. It might be products required for the UK to be sourced from abroad, so making sure we are free of Friction at the border is a critical step for a vaccine. “
The warning comes 50 days before the Brexit transition period ends and as negotiations continue over key areas to open a trade deal.
The government said on Thursday it was setting up a task force to help companies prepare, a move that has been met with some doubts given the looming deadline.
Kruda is working on Pfizer – Bioetec Experimenting with the vaccine from its inception, using technology developed by its subsidiary Avanti in the US and which will be mass-produced in the UK and America.
It produces polar lipids, a substance that acts as an “excipient” or delivery mechanism for the active ingredient in the vaccine, helping to ensure its stability and effectiveness as much as possible.
After the success of the initial results, Mr Foots said that increasing production from 40,000 trials to produce and distribute 1.3 billion doses next year is a huge challenge.
He said, “The public data released by Pfizer will tell you that it has not arrived yet. There is a safety declaration, which we hope will come in November, and then the big task through innovation is expansion through the supply chain.”
“We definitely have the quantities available for Pfizer next year for the vaccine, and they’re talking about 1.3 billion doses, and we’re ready to be able to provide that.”
“But our minds go beyond next year and we’re making sure we have supply chain insurance to scale this up, so we’re investing heavily in our units and factories running the UK and one in the US.”
Croda was founded in Yorkshire 95 years ago and is still based in East Riding.
She began her life producing lanolin, extracted from sheep’s wool, and supplying chemicals to cosmetic companies with household names as well as those in pharmaceutical and healthcare.
Mr Foote said her participation in the COVID-19 vaccine was a proud moment for the employees.
“We are an institution that is proud of its strong roots, we keep a very low profile, and we keep our feet on the ground, but to see this happen during this week, people are walking around with bulging chests and a smile on their faces,” he said.
“There is a flurry of emails from all over the world, where people are really proud to participate in the biggest health issue of our time. It’s an amazing opportunity.”