UPDATE 1-Evonik to make lipids for BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine

* Evonik says invests in expansion of lipid production

* Lipids to be made at Hanau, Dossenheim sites in Germany

* Commercial quantities to be produced as early as H2 (Adds details, background)

ZURICH, Feb 11 (Reuters) - German specialty chemicals maker Evonik said on Thursday it is investing in the expansion of production of lipids to be used in BioNTech and Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Commercial lipid quantities are to be produced at Evonik’s Hanau and Dossenheim sites in Germany as early as the second half of 2021 as part of a strategic partnership with Germany’s BioNTech, Evonik said.

The main ingredient in BioNTEch’s vaccine, 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.

With vaccine supplies tight and companies looking everywhere to scale up production, lipid production will need to keep pace.

“We are... doing everything possible to supply our partners with the critical lipids they need,” Christian Kullmann, chairman of Evonik’s executive board, 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.

Evonik already develops and formulates lipid nanoparticles in Burnaby, Canada, and operates a facility for the production and fill-finish of commercial quantities in Birmingham, Alabama in the United States, it said.

Reporting by John Miller; editing by Thomas Seythal and Maria Sheahan