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Lonza to build mRNA and small-molecule plants in Visp

Swiss site will double production of COVID-19 vaccine active ingredient for Moderna

by Rick Mullin
April 29, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 16

An arial photograph of a large, Alps-nestled chemical complex in Visp, Switzerland.
Credit: Lonza
Lonza will add both vaccine and small-molecule production at its flagship site in Visp, Switzerland.

Lonza has expanded beyond its Swiss roots to become one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical services firms, but as two new announcements show, its site in Visp, Switzerland, remains at its core.

Lonza says it will double production in Visp of the messenger RNA (mRNA) active ingredient that Moderna uses in its COVID-19 vaccine. Lonza will add three manufacturing lines to the three it has opened there since May 2020 when it and Moderna announced a 10-year collaboration to make the vaccine active ingredient.

Lonza says the three lines will open in early 2022. The company operates one mRNA line at its site in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

The project is part of a Moderna plan to increase its capacity to make the COVID-19 vaccine to as many as 3 billion doses in 2022, compared to up to 1 billion doses this year. Other elements of the plan include doublings of formulation, fill and finish, and active ingredient production at the Spanish firm Rovi and a 50% expansion of active ingredient production at Moderna’s US facilities.

Separately, Lonza plans to spend $212 million on a small-molecule manufacturing complex at the Visp site.

The 2,000 m2 facility will support a long-term contract with an unnamed drug-industry customer that is sharing in the investment. The facility will also be designed for expansion to serve other customers with small-molecule services such as active pharmaceutical ingredient production, particle engineering, and finished drug production.

Lonza expects the first part of the site to launch in 2023 with a dedicated manufacturing line for antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) payload molecules. When completed, the site will employ about 200 people.

The project will position Lonza to offer all three parts of ADC production—antibody, payload, and conjugation—in Visp, Maurits Janssen, senior director of strategic business development for small molecules at Lonza, tells C&EN in an e-mail. “The strong growth in ADCs over the past years (there are now 10 ADCs approved on the market) has driven investments in all elements of ADCs,” Janssen writes.

Lonza says it has begun employee recruitment for the new vaccine and small-molecule production lines from within Switzerland and beyond. Company-wide, Lonza says in a statement, it brought in its highest number of new employees ever in March.



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