By Ludwig Burger
FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Pfizer Inc's partner BioNTech SE has boosted the 2021 delivery target for their COVID-19 vaccine to 2 billion doses, up from 1.3 billion previously, as they add new production lines and as more doses can be extracted per vial.
Special syringes known as low dead space syringes allow for extraction of six vaccine doses from a standard vial, instead of the usual five, avoiding wasting unused liquid left in a syringe.
That would result in 1 billion people getting the designated two-dose regimen, BioNTech said on Monday in a presentation for the annual JP Morgan healthcare conference being held virtually this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"We now believe that we can potentially deliver approximately 2 billion doses in total by the end of 2021, which incorporates the updated six-dose label," BioNTech said.
A new manufacturing site in Marburg, Germany, acquired from Novartis in September, will boost annual capacity by up to 750 million doses when it becomes operational by the end of February, it added.
Additional capacity by contractors who supply ingredients and fill the finished vaccine into vials also helped to lift the target.
The German biotech company in its presentation said 32.9 million doses had been shipped as of Sunday.
A spokeswoman said that 50 million doses had been produced at the end of 2020, as previously planned, but that deliveries had been held until specific orders are placed to avoid excess storage time.
Speaking at the conference, BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin said the company would publish additional data on how well the vaccine will likely protect against highly transmissible new variants of the coronavirus discovered in Britain and South Africa.
Data on the variant in Britain would be published over the next seven days and on the South African variant over the next 10 days, he added
The vaccine appears able to protect against a key mutation in the new variants, a laboratory study organised by Pfizer showed last week.
Sahin on Monday reiterated that he did not expect the mutations to blunt the power of the vaccine.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Seythal and Patricia Weiss, Editing by Louise Heavens and Bill Berkrot)