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BERLIN—

Pfizer Inc.

vaccine partner

BioNTech SE

said it would set up a new Asia headquarters in Singapore to produce its Covid-19 vaccine and other medicines, as global demand for the lifesaving shots continues to grow.

The new factory, which is supported by Singapore’s Economic Development Board, a government agency, is expected to become operational in 2023, BioNTech said. The company didn’t release any information regarding the cost of the project and the scale of government support.

The fact that it is likely to take two years to set up the production line underlines the complexity of manufacturing the so-called mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer and BioNTech. The companies have pointed to this complexity as an argument against waiving the patent on their shot for it to be manufactured in developing countries, a move the U.S. is pushing for.

BioNTech, a small German drugmaker focused on cancer treatments, came up with the first coronavirus vaccine to be approved in the U.S. and Europe. BioNTech and Pfizer market the shot together, except in Germany, Turkey and China, where BioNTech operates alone.

The company said in a written statement that it selected Singapore for its regional headquarters and would build a highly automated mRNA manufacturing site for vaccines and therapeutics for infectious diseases and cancer.

“With this planned mRNA production facility, we will increase our overall network capacity and expand our ability to manufacture and deliver our mRNA vaccines and therapies to people around the world,” said BioNTech Chief Executive

Ugur Sahin.

“Singapore provides an excellent business climate, growing biotechnology industry and rich talent base,” Dr. Sahin added.

Construction is expected to begin this year. When the factory comes online in two years, the site is expected to have an annual capacity of several hundred million doses, as well as rapid-response production capability for potential pandemic threats in the region.

Beh Swan Gin, chairman of the EDB, said in a written statement that BioNTech’s mRNA manufacturing facility would contribute significantly to the region’s ability to address future pandemic threats.

In September last year, BioNTech purchased a state-of-the-art factory in Germany from Novartis Pharma GmbH to expand its Covid-19 vaccine production. Yet the factory in Marburg, located some 70 miles from BioNTech’s headquarters in the city of Mainz, took more than six months to begin producing its first doses, because of the complicated technology transfer, the need for upgrades to the site and the stringent certification process.

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Similarly, it took nearly eight months for Pfizer, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, to absorb BioNTech’s proprietary technology and start producing vaccines at scale.

BioNTech said earlier that it would soon set up a production site in China with

Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical (Group) Co.

to supply the Chinese market. China has ordered as many as 100 million doses from BioNTech and Fosun Pharma.

Write to Bojan Pancevski at bojan.pancevski@wsj.com

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