For our in-depth article about the supply chain of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, my co-author and better half Conny and I read hundreds of articles, data sheets, and press releases. Some of them were captivating reads full of interesting behind-the-scenes stories and background information, but only appear as a small footnote in the main article. The following is a selection of some of these articles (and one video). Most are quite long, so make sure to reserve an hour of reading time before you start clicking the links!
As always, please send feedback and suggestions for additional links to firstname.lastname@example.org.
in Toronto Star, by Alex Boyd, published 11 December 2020
A glimpse into the work done by one of the “second tier” companies that supply key “ingredients” for the vaccines. This article tells the story of Thomas Madden, CEO of Acuitas Therapeutics in Vancouver and expert for liquid nanoparticles, and his February 2020 trip to Germany. During this trip it was agreed that Acuitas’ liquid nanoparticles would be the delivery mechanism for BioNTech’s mRNA. The article also covers other Canada-based vaccine development contributors as well as the general state of vaccine development as of early December 2020.
in Boston Magazine, by Catherine Elton, published 4 June 2020
The “inside story” of how the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine was developed. Comes will all the necessary parts of a gripping piece of business journalism: A CEO who gets up before sunrise to read the Wall Street Journal even while on vacation, a competitor on the other side of the River Charles (the inventor of the adenoviral vector vaccine currently in development by Janssen), night shifts and cancelled weekends, and people being “on tenterhooks” waiting for a 14-day sterility experiment to complete.
in Washington Post, by Carolyn Y. Johnson, published 17 November 2020
The Pfizer equivalent to Boston Magazine’s story about Moderna listed above. This article focuses on the Pfizer half of Pfizer-BioNTech and traces the US-based production supply chain from St. Louis, MO, to Andover, MA, to Kalamazoo, MI.
in Wall Street Journal, by Jared S. Hopkins, published 7 December 2020
Read this directly after the previous one. Your knowledge of the three Pfizer locations and the final process will make you appreciate even more what the manufacturing and operations people at Pfizer had to deal with while building a manufacturing process before the final vaccine was chosen from twenty initial candidates. It’s a story of constantly changing requirements, tens of millions of dollars being thrown at problems, many clever ideas to squeeze out additional factory capacity, and how all of that led to the changing dose count predictions that the news media breathlessly and context-freely reported about.
in New Yorker Magazine, photos by Christopher Payne, published 30 November 2020
A photo essay documenting the development and production of Corning’s Valor Glass, a new type of glass that is used for vaccine vials as of 2020. The industry standard borosilicate glass suffers from several problems, including that it is prone to suffer from “delamination” where pharmaceutical products in vials become contaminated with small glass pieces and trace particles diffusing from the glass surface. Corning researchers identified the ingredient boron as the culprit and developed an alternative formulation and surface treatment that vastly outperforms borosilicate glass. Valor Glass was in development since 2011 and COVID-19 might have been its big break. My favorite quote from this article: “The periodic table is our toolbox.”
in Nature Outlook, by Elie Dolgin, published 16 October 2019
An overview article about the work on mRNA vaccines as of October 2019. The first half covers amazing results observed with personalized cancer vaccines. The second half covers the seemingly less exciting “off the shelf” applications such as vaccines against Zika, avian influenza, malaria, and so on, before asserting that BioNTech is focused on the oncology market. Those were the times. The subtitle of the article is: “The technology could help to boost immunity against cancer, influenza and much more.” Much more indeed.
by Business Insider, published 11 December 2020
Much has been written about the “cold chain”, the logistics network consisting of distribution centers, containers, and vehicles capable of keeping products at a specific cold temperature. This 15-minute video shows one example of what that looks like through a tour of Lufthansa’s facility at Chicago O’Hare airport.