Biotechnology firm aims to produce Covid-19 vaccine near Prague

Photo: archive of the Office of Czech Government

US company Novavax is developing a vaccine against Covid-19 at a plant near Prague. The vaccine is set to go into trial production in October ahead of full production next year – and should be tried out on Czech volunteers in the final test phase.

In late May the American biotechnology company Novavax acquired a plant by the small town of Kostelec nad Černými lesy, around 40 kilometres east of Prague.

The company is one of many around the world in competition to develop a vaccine against Covid-19 and bought the Praha Vaccines facility in a bid to meet production goals for its coronavirus vaccine candidate.

On Tuesday the plant was visited by the Czech prime minister, Andrej Babiš, who later outlined Novavax’s plans to reporters.

Andrej Babiš, Stanley Erck, photo: archive of the Office of Czech Government

“It wants to produce two billion doses against the coronavirus a year globally. Of that amount, it wants to produce one billion here in the Czech Republic. Novavax emphasises that it is carrying out clinical trials, mainly in Australia, the US and the UK… Around 300 of our fellow citizens should be selected to take part in such clinical studies.”

Those tests should be carried out in the final phase of trials for Novavax’s candidate vaccine.

Epidemiologist Roman Prymula said the safety of such tests was assured. The government’s commissioner for science and research said the technique involved taking protein from the surface part of the virus; it should elicit an immune response and thus protect people.

This protein, a key element of the vaccine, will be produced in the Czech Republic, with a second important component to be made in Sweden.

Production should get underway at the Czech plant under trial conditions in October, ahead of a planned move to full production in the New Year.

The plant aims to ultimately produce eight million doses of its vaccine every four days – and Andrej Babiš said that his government would be a willing customer.

Novavax plant near Kostelec nad Černými lesy, photo: archive of the Office of Czech Government

“Naturally we spoke about that today – that we would be interested in purchasing it. Because the first vaccine will come with certain conditions. In view of the fact that Novavax is here in the Czech Republic we want to discuss that, and potentially sign a contract.”

Novavax president and CEO Stanley Erck said that the company’s presence in the country represented a very important investment going forward. Mr. Erck said both the Czech Republic and his firm had a lot to offer, the news site iDnes.cz reported.

The Czech government has already signed another contract for a planned vaccine from the company AstraZeneca, Czech Television said. The plan is to provide it to 3.6 million inhabitants, or roughly one-third of the population.

The state would pay about EUR 3.5 per dose, which it would then provide to people for free. The optimistic outlook is that the first fruits of this deal could be available at the turn of the year.