Moderna Inc. MRNA -8.94% plans to spend up to $500 million to build a new manufacturing plant in Africa to supply doses of its Covid-19 vaccine and potential additional vaccines to a continent that has grappled with a shortage.
The Cambridge, Mass., drug company said Thursday it will build a state-of-the-art facility that could produce up to 500 million doses annually of vaccines, using its gene-based technology, known as messenger RNA.
Moderna’s only current product is its Covid-19 vaccine, but the company is developing other vaccines against Zika, influenza, cytomegalovirus and other pathogens that could be made at the plant and meet demand in Africa.
The initial vaccine doses from this new Africa plant wouldn’t factor into the current pandemic emergency. Completing construction on the plant and validating it will probably take two to four years, CEO Stephane Bancel said in an interview.
Moderna and other Covid-19 vaccine makers have faced criticism for not doing more to make doses available to lower-income countries, including those in Africa, where vaccination rates are low.
Most of Moderna’s near-term supply is committed to wealthier countries, including the U.S., Japan and European nations.
Some advocacy groups, including Public Citizen, have called on Moderna and U.S. officials to share the company’s Covid-19 vaccine technology with other countries so they can manufacture doses for their populations.
Mr. Bancel said there have been inequalities in global access to Covid-19 vaccines, and “we want to be able to make sure that this does not happen again.”
Moderna currently manufactures its Covid-19 vaccine at its Norwood, Mass., plant, which helps supply the U.S. as does a contractor’s plant in New Hampshire. The contractor, Lonza Group, also makes the vaccine at a plant in Switzerland to supply countries outside the U.S.
Moderna expects to make up to one billion doses of its Covid-19 vaccine for global use this year and then potentially triple output to three billion next year.
Among African nations, Moderna has a contract to supply Covid-19 vaccine doses to Botswana. In addition, the U.S. government has included Moderna’s in vaccine donations to other countries, including Nigeria.
Separately, Moderna has agreed to supply up to 500 million doses of its vaccine to an international program, Covax, which is distributing vaccine doses to lower-income countries, including those in Africa.
Some 34 million of those Moderna doses are slated to be delivered to Covax by the end of this year, with the rest coming in 2022.
Moderna hasn’t selected the African country to build the plant. Mr. Bancel said the company has a shortlist of about five, which he didn’t identify. Moderna is evaluating countries based on their political stability, quality of workforce and access to materials needed for manufacturing, he said.
The company’s plan to build a factory in Africa is part of a broader push to expand its in-house capacity globally. In August, the company said it plans to build a plant in Canada, under a deal with the Canadian government, to make mRNA vaccines.
Mr. Bancel said the company wants to build plants in Europe, Australia and Asia as well, and he envisions the company eventually having five to 10 plants globally.
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