Indy-based Exelead Inc. churns out millions of Pfizer vaccine doses, on hiring spree to keep up

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As health and government leaders push to vaccinate the U.S. and begin providing booster shots to eligible people, an Indianapolis-based drug contract manufacturer is scrambling to keep up with demand.

Exelead Inc., with headquarters at 6925 Guion Road on the northwest side, said it has manufactured and shipped tens of millions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in recent months and is expanding its facilities to keep up with demand.

“Pfizer would like us to make every single dose we can,” John Rigg, CEO of Exelead, told IBJ.

Vaccine manufacturers around the world are churning out more than 1.5 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines a month and are on track to produce a total of 12 billion doses by the end of the year, according to the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, and reported in the Wall Street Journal.

Exelead, an 11-year-old private company, is the only outside contract manufacturer in the U.S. to make the Pfizer vaccine, said Rigg, a former senior director at Indianapolis-based drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co., managing the company’s insulin manufacturing operations.

Exelead recently expanded into a fourth building in Indianapolis to house quality control laboratories, packaging and some manufacturing. It is also in the process of hiring dozens of new workers, pushing its workforce from 140 at the beginning of the year to 250 by the end.

Job openings include scientists and engineers, with an average salary of $70,000 to $80,000, Rigg said. It is also hiring manufacturing operators, with wages of $22 to $25 an hour.

“It’s very, very challenging because of the volume (of doses) required,” Rigg said. “I’d say about 50% of the (additional) jobs are coming online because of Pfizer.”

The company declined to let the IBJ visit the manufacturing plant, citing privacy concerns.

Exelead announced in May it had delivered its first batch of vaccines to Pfizer. The huge drugmaker’s partner in the vaccine, German-based BioNTech SE, has long been a client of Exelead, Rigg said. Exelead currently has three other manufacturing programs going with BioNTech, and about 20 programs with other clients.

Exelead was formed in 2010 as Sigma-Tau Pharmaceuticals and rebranded in 2017 under its current name. “Exelead” is a combination of the words “excellence” and “leading,” Rigg said.

The company specializes in manufacturing biologics, gene therapies and vaccines. It provides medicines through its clients network to more than 20 countries. It is wholly owned subsidiary of Essetifin SpA of Rome, Italy.

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