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Moderna picks Lonza to make 1 billion doses of its coronavirus vaccine

Program boosts effort by the mRNA therapy pioneer to be first with a coronavirus vaccine

by Rick Mullin
May 1, 2020

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Credit: Lonza
Lonza's biologics facility in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, will manufacture Moderna's mRNA-based vaccine.

Moderna and Lonza have announced a 10-year collaboration to enable large-scale production of Moderna’s messenger RNA vaccine against the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). The deal calls for Lonza to establish manufacturing suites for the vaccine at its facilities in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Visp, Switzerland.

Technology transfer is expected to begin in June, and the companies say they intend to make the first batches of mRNA-1273 in Portsmouth in July. The firms ultimately target the manufacture of material equivalent to up to 1 billion doses of the vaccine per year for worldwide distribution based on the currently expected dose of 50 µg.

Moderna announced on April 27 that it submitted an Investigational New Drug Application to the US Food and Drug Administration for Phase II and late-stage studies of the vaccine, if supported by Phase I safety data. The biotech firm expects the Phase II study to launch before the end of June.

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The partnership will greatly boost Moderna’s vaccine capacity at its facility in Norwood, Massachusetts.

“This long-term strategic collaboration agreement will enable Moderna to accelerate, by 10 times, our manufacturing capacity for mRNA-1273 and additional products in Moderna’s large clinical portfolio,” CEO Stéphane Bancel says in a statement. “Lonza’s global presence and expertise are critical as we scale at unprecedented speed.”

Multiple companies and academic researchers are racing develop an effective vaccine for COVID-19, and some of them are starting to line up manufacturing partners. Johnson & Johnson just announced partnerships with Emergent BioSolutions and Catalent toward its goal of offering 1 billion doses a year of its adenovirus-based vaccine. The University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute and Merck KGaA recently developed a manufacturing process for the institute’s adenovirus vaccine candidate.

At the Portsmouth plant, Lonza will employ Moderna’s hybrid chemical and enzymatic method of mRNA production, according to Charles Christy, a Lonza contract manufacturing executive. The Swiss firm will also manufacture lipid nanoparticles to encapsulate the mRNA molecules and formulate the vaccine.

Additional capacity will be brought on at the company’s Visp site. Final production volume will depend on the results of clinical trials and may also involve Lonza’s plant in Tuas, Singapore.

Funding for manufacture of the vaccine is supported in part by Moderna’s contract with the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, in which the biotech received a commitment of up to $483 million. No other financial details were disclosed.

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