Moderna unveils $500m plan for African vaccine facility

Moderna has said it plans to invest $500 million in a new facility for manufacturing mRNA vaccines in Africa, and has kicked off a search to find a suitable country and location.

The factory will be able to supply up to 500 million doses of mRNA shots a year, and cover the full spectrum of manufacturing from drug substance production through to full/finish and packaging, according to the company.

The announcement comes against a backdrop of criticism of pharma companies for not doing enough to supply vaccines for COVID-19 and other diseases to Africa and other areas of the world with less developed healthcare systems.

According to the latest WHO data, just 4.4% of Africans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and just 15 African nations have met the agency’s objective of 10% coverage.

The huge profits brought in by the company’s COVID-19 vaccine will fund the investment programme, which according to its chief executive Stephane Bancel will “extend Moderna’s societal impact.”

The facility will likely come too late to have an impact on the current pandemic, but Moderna is thought to be the first company with a COVID-19 vaccine to make a firm commitment to bolstering Africa’s vaccines manufacturing capacity.

Moderna and other COVID-19 vaccine producers have been heavily criticised for not waiving their intellectual property rights to the technology behind the jabs in order to allow them to be made by other companies, and accelerate immunisation campaigns in the developing world.

The idea has the support of the US government, but the pharma industry argues that transferring the skills and technical know-how is complex and a waiver could risk diverting raw materials and supplies away from current producers and raise the risk of falsified medicines entering the supply chain.

Some of the COVID-19 vaccine producers – including AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech – have licensed their technology to other companies in order to boost manufacturing capacity.

“While we are still working to increase capacity in our current network to deliver vaccines for the ongoing pandemic in 2022, we believe it is important to invest in the future,” said Bancel.

“We expect to manufacture our COVID-19 vaccine as well as additional products within our mRNA vaccine portfolio at this facility.”

Moderna’s pipeline includes 20 preventative vaccine candidates for infectious diseases including Zika, flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and HIV, amongst others, as well as cancer.

The company has said it expects to make $20 billion from sales of its COVID-19 vaccine this year from around 1 billion delivered doses.

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