Ajinomoto business in Raleigh provides a key ingredient used in some COVID-19 vaccines

Posted January 15, 2021 6:00 a.m. EST
Updated January 15, 2021 6:35 a.m. EST

— A major Raleigh employer now plays a big role in the development of new COVID-19 vaccines not yet available in the U.S.

One year ago, Ajinomoto’s Health & Nutrition facility in Raleigh expanded their operation just before COVID-19 became an issue.

Their main product, amino acids, is used in all sorts of items as well as in many drugs and vaccines.

"The pharmaceutical demands for amino acids has just skyrocketed due to COVID," said Mike Lish, senior vice president of Ajinomoto’s Amino Science Division.

Amino acids help stabilize medications and vaccines or serve as a preservative to prevent contamination, Lish said.

The product is not used in the new Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines now offered to seniors, health workers and residents of long-term care facilities in the U.S.

Lish said, "The current vaccine uses mRNA, which is very unique. I believe these are the first two vaccines utilizing that different technology."

He says a mix of 20 to 23 amino acids are the traditional route for producing drugs and vaccines.

Two amino acid-based COVID-19 vaccines will soon be added, says Lish. "One in the UK – that’s approved and maybe quite soon in the U.S."

A few are still in clinical trials, but Lish expects them to become available by mid-summer. His focus, he says, is on meeting the worldwide demand. "So over the last number of years we’ve had to not only concentrate on the U.S. but also on the European and Asian market."

Lish says the demand has allowed him to add jobs. However, due to COVID-19 concerns, many employees work from home.

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