Gaithersburg-based Emergent BioSolutions was supposed to be a key player in the nation’s COVID-19 vaccine production, but after a mix-up at its Baltimore plant that resulted in hundreds of millions in wasted doses, the company is largely exiting the business and laying off much of the staff.
The company notified Maryland labor officials this week that it would eliminate 211 jobs at the Bayview plant in East Baltimore and cut another 20 in Montgomery County. About 400 workers across the company will be eliminated.
The company in a statement said it would focus on other government business, such as making Narcan nasal spray, used to reverse opioid overdoses, as well as contributing smallpox and anthrax vaccines to the national stockpile.
Emergent will largely leave the contract manufacturing business that once propelled earnings for the company. The company expects to save more than $100 million a year on the move.
“The actions we are taking will further strengthen our core products business and financial foundation,” said Haywood Miller, Emergent’s interim CEO, in a statement.
“This will better align Emergent’s businesses with a focus on our core products and delivering for the needs of our customers,” he said. “It will provide us with flexibility to respond to future customer demand while responsibly maintaining manufacturing infrastructure deemed critical to respond to public health threats.”
Matt Hartwig, a company spokesman, said there will be a small number of employees remaining at Bayview. But it’s not currently producing vaccines, or anything, there.
He couldn’t immediately say how many workers remain in Baltimore or Maryland.
Emergent was once considered pivotal to the nation’s COVID-19 vaccine supply. It had contracts to produce both Johnson & Johnson’s and AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccines, but mishaps at the Bayview plant meant much of it could not be used.
The Bayview plant produced bulk doses that were shipped to other plants to be put in vials and used. Government inspectors found issues with production and record keeping. They shut the lines down and forced Emergent to ditch much of the doses.
Eventually more than 100 million dose equivalents of both vaccines were cleared for use. But Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine never caught on in the United States and AstraZeneca’s was never approved here. The doses were shipped overseas.
The company later faced several lawsuits from shareholders who accused it of pumping up its shares while hiding issues with its manufacturing.
Shares of Emergent, which once reached $133, were at about $5.70 in midday trading.