Evonik starts lipid deliveries for Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine ahead of time

April 22 (Reuters) - German chemicals group Evonik Industries has started delivering a key ingredient for the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine ahead of time, in a boost for the pair’s efforts to ramp up production.

Evonik said on Thursday it had set up lipid production at its site in Hanau, Germany, in eight weeks, much more quickly than expected, and started to deliver the first batches to be used in the vaccine.

The main ingredient in the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine - the messenger RNA (mRNA) that helps prompt an immune response against the coronavirus - must be packaged inside lipid nanoparticles to protect the fragile material from degradation once it has been injected into people.

In February, Evonik had said it was expanding production of lipids for the vaccine and expected to be producing commercial quantities in the second half of 2021.

“Increasing lipid production in Germany will also allow us to further accelerate the manufacturing of larger quantities of the vaccine,” Chief Executive Christian Kullmann said in a statement.

Germany’s Merck is also producing lipids for BioNTech, while other companies including Sanofi and Novartis have offered manufacturing capacity to provide millions of doses of the vaccine.

Several manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines have had problems securing supplies, limiting availability and slowing vaccination campaigns, for example in continental Europe.

In March, Evonik’s deputy chairman Harald Schwager said the lipids production should start contributing to sales from the second half of 2021 and generate revenues in the three-digit millions in the coming years. (Reporting by Bartosz Dabrowski in Gdansk. Editing by Mark Potter )