Manufacturers’ Monthly spoke with CSL Limited about its new manufacturing facilities, COVID-19, and its exciting plans for local manufacturing of advanced vaccines and other biotech products.
Given the events of 2020 and 2021, it is plain to everyone the imperative of ensuring Australia improves its sovereign research and manufacturing capabilities in the domain of biotechnology.
CSL Limited has a long-established reputation for excellence as Australia’s leading multinational specialty biotechnology company in the research, development, and marketing of products that treat and prevent serious human medical conditions.
A CSL spokesperson said that even before the advent of COVID-19, CSL and its subsidiary Seqirus, were taking serious strides to upgrade their capabilities with major investments in three new facilities in Melbourne.
The spokesperson said that over the last decade CSL has invested over $1 billion in expanding its Broadmeadows site, with recent investment of $900 million for a new Base Fractionation facility on that site. A new state-of-the-art, cell-based influenza vaccine facility for Seqirus has been developed at Tullamarine, with $800 million invested. Further to that, new global headquarters and R&D facilities are currently under construction in the heart of Melbourne’s biomedical precinct.
“These projects will expand current end-to-end biomedical development to manufacturing capacity, ensuring we have the ability to sustain our operations here by further integrating them into our global network and deliver for increased demand for our products,” CSL said. “They will provide scalable and sustainable capabilities to manufacture products that can be made for Australia and exported to the world.”
World class facilities that develop local talent
The three projects are distinct in their purposes, and so require different staffing capabilities, the spokesperson said. But there is no doubt that their development will be a boon not only to jobs but – perhaps more importantly – the development of homegrown biotechnological talent.
“The construction of the Elizabeth Street North site – at the heart of Melbourne’s biomedical precinct – supported roughly 1300 construction staff and will house CSL employees from across Melbourne once complete,” CSL said. “With the Seqirus facility, the project will support the continuation of more than 1000-plus science, technology, engineering, and manufacturing jobs in Victoria and a supply chain of more than $300 million annually.”
Often, the creation of new, technologically sophisticated facilities can set off fear in the public mind about potential loss of jobs – the perennial worry of humans being replaced by machines.
But according to its spokesperson, CSL is not expecting any staff reductions because of these projects. In fact, they went further than that.
“This is an important vote of confidence in the future of the company in Australia and will ensure we continue to retain and attract top biotech talent,” they said. “As we utilise advanced manufacturing techniques and deploy new technology, we anticipate the workforce will upskill and adapt to the different requirements of the new facilities.”
While CSL doesn’t have a set policy or quotas for local hires, the spokesperson said that generally speaking CSL’s manufacturing workforce are local hires. As a global business with a large operational footprint, there is much knowledge-sharing across sites to be as efficient as possible – so restricting the talent pool to only include local hires would not make sense if CSL is to maintain its international reputation as among the best of the best. But the strategic location of its new global headquarters and R&D hub in the heart of Melbourne’s biomedical precinct is as clear an indicator as one could wish for that CSL is committed to maximising its use of – and work with – local talent and their associated institutions.
COVID-19: Manufacturing the Astrazenica vaccine
Manufacturing the AstraZeneca vaccine required CSL to re-tool its Australian facilities, and CSL’s spokesperson said that because the AstraZeneca team is based in America, a lot of late-night knowledge transfer sessions were involved in order to get the manufacturing capability up and running so as to deliver vaccines as quickly as possible to Australians.
While CSL is gearing up to produce mRNA vaccines in the future, the AstraZeneca vaccine – a viral vector vaccine – was what CSL committed to manufacturing for the Australian Government as part of its vaccine rollout.
“The manufacture was a great partnership with AstraZeneca,” the spokesperson said. “Despite not having a subject matter expert on the ground in Melbourne, CSL was able to connect with their experts on a regular basis to ensure the process was safe, efficient and, of course, would meet stringent quality standards.”
Onshoring mRNA capacity
CSL responded to the Australian Government’s Approach to Market with a proposal as to how it would develop onshore mRNA capacity in Australia – as part of its broader push to future-proof our country against future pandemic threats.
“Under the proposal we submitted, this would be supported by a purpose built, commercial scale mRNA facility co-located at the new Seqirus cell-based influenza vaccine manufacturing facility under construction in Tullamarine, Victoria.”
Such a facility would be a world-leader in mRNA manufacturing, with the ability to manufacture more than two doses of an mRNA vaccine for every Australian in 16 weeks (roughly 50 million doses).
“Locating as part of the Seqirus facility blueprint means the area is all ready for the mRNA facility construction, with all support functions – such as quality assurance and logistics – already accounted for,” CSL’s spokesperson said.
Looking ahead: Exciting development at Seqirus
The new facility that Seqirus is building to deliver cell-based technology to Australia is an especially exciting development. “This will be the only cell-based influenza manufacturing facility in the Southern Hemisphere,” the CSL spokesman said.
“Cell-influenza vaccine technology offers many advantages over the existing process, including being more scalable and offering faster production – particularly important in the case of influenza pandemics.
“The facility will be an important addition to our global influenza manufacturing supply chain, incorporating the technology platform used in our Holly Springs, North Carolina facility.”
Seqirus’s proprietary adjuvant MF59 – a substance added to some vaccines to improve immune response and to reduce the amount of antigen needed for each vaccine, thus enabling more doses to be manufactured more rapidly – will also be manufactured at the new facility.
The investment in the new Seqirus facility follows the signing of an agreement with the Australian Government for supply over ten years of influenza pandemic protection for the Australian population, anti-venoms for Australian snakes, spiders and marine creatures, and the Q-Fever vaccines.
“For 100 years our company has been on the front line in the fight against influenza in Australia, operating Australia’s only local manufacturing facility for influenza vaccines,” the CSL spokesperson said. “We are excited to see this commitment enter a new phase with this new investment.”