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How is the Argentine laboratory that will produce the Oxford and AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine

mAbxience, from Grupo Insud, will manufacture the active substance of the vaccine, which will be packaged in Mexico. We tell you why they chose it

Until President Alberto Fernández appointed him, very few Argentines had heard of mAbxience, the biotechnology company that, as the president announced, will be in charge of producing the Oxford vaccine for Latin America.

However, this laboratory, which is dedicated to producing drugs for oncological and autoimmune diseases, seems to have been tailor-made to meet this challenge.

mAbxience is not only dedicated to something similar, but it has a unique advantage: last February, just before the arrival of the coronavirus in Argentina, it had opened a new and massive state-of-the-art plant on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

It is one of the most modern plants in the world“, Highlighted the Argentine businessman Hugo Sigman, owner of Grupo Insud, to which mAbxience belongs.

This is what will give you the ability to produce the between 150 and 250 million vaccines that the University of Oxford and the pharmaceutical AstraZeneca want to distribute in Latin America (with the exception of Brazil, which will have its own production).

It will be a shared effort with Mexico: mAbxience will produce the active substance of the vaccine, while the Mexican laboratory Liomont will package it.

A spokesperson for the Insud Group told BBC Mundo that the choice of that laboratory was initially born from the relationship between Sigman and the Mexican magnate Carlos Slim.

The Slim Foundation was the one that signed an agreement with AstraZeneca to finance the production of the vaccine for Latin America.

It is a production “at risk” since the British pharmaceutical company wanted to start manufacturing the vaccine – pending to pass the latest clinical trials – before its approval.

Insud Group
Hugo Sigman, owner of Grupo Insud, to which mAbxience belongs, says that his brand new laboratory is one of the most modern in the world.

The idea is that it is ready to be distributed as soon as its use is approved.

That’s why the Slim Foundation pledged to donate millions of dollars to start the manufacturing process and, together with AstraZeneca, they decided that mAbxience would be in charge of production for Latin America, minus Brazil.

Thanks to this agreement, Latin America will have the vaccine “at the same time as the central countries”, highlighted Sigman on Thursday, during an interview with radio Miter.

Why did you choose mAbxience?

In making the announcement on Wednesday, President Fernández said the election was “a recognition of the quality of the Argentine laboratories.”

The CEO of mAbxience Argentina, Esteban Corley, agrees that the scientific prestige that Argentina has played a part.

“The country has a virtuous relationship between a powerful, modern and competitive pharmaceutical industry, and, on the other hand, highly trained human resources,” he said.

But in conversation with BBC Mundo, Corley explained that his laboratory was in a particularly advantageous position to join a project of this magnitude.

MAbxience Laboratory

Insud Group
The 150 experts working at mAbxience will be in charge of producing the active ingredient of the vaccine for Latin America.

“In Argentina we were the only ones in a position to accommodate a challenge of this magnitude, because we have the new plant, because we have a large scale of production, of cell culture, “he said.

“There are not many such candidates in Latin America … there is no such installed capacity because it is a very special business,” he said.

Corley said that AstraZeneca had two priorities when producing and distributing its vaccine: access and affordability, two goals that mAbxience also shares.

It is expected that the vaccine they will make it will cost between $ 3 and $ 4, which will allow pharmaceutical companies to cover their costs, but not make a profit.

mAbxience will also have another “opportunity cost”: it will use its entire new plant to produce the covid-19 vaccine (it plans to initially produce some 23 million doses per month).

This means that it will not be able to use its brand new 20,000 m² plant, in which it invested more than $ 40 million, to produce its own medicines, for which it was created.

That is to say, will lose profitability as long as he’s making the Oxford vaccine.

However, Corley highlights the huge pride that everyone in the company feels for the contribution they are making in the fight against the global pandemic.

Esteban Corley, CEO of mAbxience Argentina

Insud Group
Esteban Corley, general director of mAbxience Argentina, says that his team is proud to “be able to contribute” to curbing the coronavirus.

For us it is a privilege to be able to contribute to this. People are very enthusiastic and eager to put their shoulders to him and try to go as fast as possible to be able to put this problem behind as soon as possible ”, he says.

The company

mAbxience was founded in 2009 and it opened its first plant in Buenos Aires in 2012. Corley says that when they started, they had just eight employees.

Today they work in the Argentine laboratory 150 people, including experts in biotechnology, biology, biochemistry and chemistry.

In 2015, the company opened a new plant in León, Spain, to which it added the largest laboratory of all this year, in Garín, in the suburbs of the Argentine capital.

Until now, the biotech company had been primarily involved in the production of monoclonal antibodies, which are used to treat some types of cancer and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Hence the strange name mAbxience comes from: mAb stands for monoclonal antibodies and the “x” is a shorthand for science.

With the construction of its new plant, the company planned double your production capacity, which would allow it to expand its exports, which already reach the rest of Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Now that expansion will have to wait.

However, Corley assured that the production of the vaccine against covid-19 will not affect the manufacture of your current medications, which will continue to be done in its two remaining plants.


Getty Images
While manufacturing the vaccine, mAbxience will continue to produce its autoimmune and cancer drugs at its other two plants.

The company estimates that some 35,000 patients in Latin America use these drugs.

How long will it take

What many anxiously ask is when the vaccine will be ready.

Corley is not encouraged to give details, beyond assuring that it will be “In the first half of 2021”.

The expert explains that, although production starts early, even before the vaccine is approved, there are many steps and protocols, in addition to inspections, that must be followed to guarantee its correct manufacture.

I don’t want to generate a false expectation“, He points out, clarifying that only in February they estimate that they will be ready to begin commercial production of the vaccine.

Then you have to send the active ingredient to Mexico to be packaged, a process that would take another 40 days.

And finally it is distributed, something that AstraZeneca has already said will be done in an equitable way among the different countries of the region.

Asked about why the packaging is made in Mexico and not in Argentina, the expert points out that it is “a practical decision due to the number of doses to be filled.”

But even if the final step is taken by someone else, Corley highlights the role that his company will play: “We will produce the heartorn of the vaccineHe says proudly.

A heart with a vaccine inside

Getty Images
Although the vaccine will be finished in Mexico, the “heart” will be made in Argentina, mAbxience scientists are proud.

According to estimates, it could take a few seven or eight months to produce up to 250 million doses that is planned to distribute in Latin America.

“We are going to start producing about 23 million doses per month, but we are already taking steps to be able to duplicate that“, bill.

For this they plan to incorporate two other bioreactors, an investment that the company itself will make.

Corley knows it will be busy days ahead, but he’s happy.

“It will be an effort but we know that we are going to be doing something very important,” he says.

It also comforts him to be able to give good news in the midst of what is already the worst economic crisis in Argentina’s history.

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