Friday, June 18, 2021

Great article about the Pfizer Kalamazoo manufacturing plant

Via the Washington Post: 
Two days later, project manager Melissa French, who started working at the plant 27 years ago when she was a biology student at Western Michigan University, was called into work on the vaccine project to help Pfizer produce its own supplies of a rare but vital ingredient for a vaccine nanoparticle.

Kalamazoo was the only site with specialized chromatography equipment that could produce the ingredient, a special fatty compound called an ionizable cationic lipid, at large scale. French told her two children and two stepchildren — all under 11 — that her planned two-week Christmas break was canceled.

As she walked chemists and engineers through the complex challenge in a Dec. 15 kickoff meeting, French’s emotions surged as she read the bullet points out loud on her presentation.

“I cried a little. I choked up,” French said. “It looks boring, and then there’s a simple slide that says ‘Why is this so important? Because the world needs us, and people are dying of covid-19.’ And to say it out loud, when we needed that vaccine, and we were all cooped up at home …”

French led a team of 40 people who swarmed the problem from all angles, designing and assembling the equipment in a little over a month. It required exhaustive safety reviews. Highly flammable solvents are used to make lipids, so cellphones must be encased in special covers to prevent errant sparks. By Jan. 20 they began the complex, multistep process of preparing the first batch.

The ionizable cationic lipid is the linchpin of a nanoparticle. Of four lipids required, it is used in the greatest quantities. It changes its electrical charge when it enters a human cell, opening the nanoparticle and releasing the mRNA payload. Without it, a nanoparticle vaccine will not work.

“When we put product in the tank, there was an audience,” she said. “A bunch of the chemists came, and these floor operators were saying, ‘Why do we have an audience?’”
Great article, read the whole thing. 

Happy that they were successful. Best wishes to them, and to all of us. 


  1. Glad to see they're still around! I thought Pfizer's Michigan sites were long-gone.

    1. Pfizer's Kalamazoo site is the largest manufacturing site in the entire company. I was told they have something like 3000-3500 people there and had around 5000 at one point, if memory serves me right.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20