Strategy consultants exploring local Covid-19 vaccine production

02 May 2021 3 min. read

The Australian government is looking into the establishment of a domestic production plant for mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer’s Covid-19 shot, calling in external support to help develop a business case.

The Australian government has called in strategy consultants to advise on a business case for the establishment of an onshore mRNA-based vaccine manufacturing facility. Currently serving the Department of Health and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet on vaccine roll-out related projects, strategy consulting giant McKinsey & Company has also been aiding the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources on building future capacity.

Presently, the troubled AstraZeneca ‘viral vector’ vaccine is being produced in Melbourne by biotech company CSL, whereas an mRNA-capable facility could for example allow for the local production of the Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines, as well the manufacture of boosters and future flu shots – helping to address the overseas supply issues which have partially hampered the vaccine roll-out in Australia. A domestic facility could also serve as a regional hub.

Strategy consultants working on local Covid-19 vaccine production

Early discussions as to developing Australia’s onshore mRNA capability have already taken place, with the participation of CSL, Pfizer and other drug company representatives reported by various media outlets. Federal health minister Greg Hunt has also confirmed the government had been developing a business case for big pharma to consider domestic mRNA-based production, with McKinsey’s $2.2 million three-month assignment due to have concluded in March.

“The government has commissioned an audit of organisations within Australia with mRNA production capability and we are working with the biotech industry to consider ways to establish and sustain large-scale mRNA vaccine manufacturing,” Hunt told The Age, adding elsewhere; “[CSL] have said publicly that they are considering moving to an mRNA capacity and others are considering mRNA capacity. So we are doing a business case now to look at that option.”

The development follows mounting calls from multiple public bodies and health experts for the government to act on local mRNA-based vaccine production, with the opposition Labor party pledging to establish domestic capabilities as part of its election package. Meanwhile, the Victorian state government has pushed the matter forward by announcing an initial $50 million of funding towards research and the establishment of an Australian state-of-art drug manufacturing plant.

A former CSL Chairman, Australian Academy of Science president John Shine, told the Sydney Morning Herald that building a new facility from scratch would cost an estimated $300 to 500 million and take three to four years to complete. Labor, however, has criticised such a drawn out timeline, pointing to the ability of Germany – one of very few countries currently capable of producing mRNA-style vaccines – to build a factory for doing so in the space of around six months.

While McKinsey’s most recently published ‘business case’ contract expired last month, an earlier $2.4 million tender for ‘professional advice’ with the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources appears ongoing, slated to run from February through to early June.

Rival BCG has also been working with the department in recent months on ‘business facilitation services’, with both consulting firms having more than doubled their government contract revenues last year.