Moderna this week announced a memorandum of understanding with the government of Canada to build an mRNA vaccine manufacturing plant at an unspecified location in Canada. The pact is the first in what the company says will be similar partnerships with countries around the world.
In a statement, Moderna says the agreement will provide Canadians with access to domestically manufactured mRNA vaccines against respiratory viruses, including COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus. The project also will lay the foundation for providing vaccines in a rapid pandemic response.
“While we are still responding to this pandemic, we also want to ensure we and society learn from it,” said Stéphane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna, in a press release. “We believe that this innovative business model will have global impact and implications.”
The company says discussions are underway with other countries to pursue similar partnerships. In an interview with the New York Times, Bancel specified that there are up to ten prospects in Europe and Asia, including some in low-income countries.
“There is very little vaccine manufacturing capacity in Canada, so I know the government has been anxious to get additional capacity rather than rely on imports,” says pharmaceutical chemical industry consultant Peter Bigelow, president of xCell Strategic Consulting.
The plant may also create an opportunity for contract manufacturers providing the final steps of production, he says. “I am sure the Canadian government will want sterile fill finish and packaging to occur in country.”
Establishing facilities in partnership with local governments could lessen Moderna’s overall dependence on contract manufacturers for the vaccine, says Wayne Weiner, head of the consulting firm PharmaTech Solutions.
Eight months after COVID-19 vaccines were first authorized in the US, some 70% of adults have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. But access has been scarce in many parts of the world, particularly in Africa, where less than 2% of the continent’s population has been fully vaccinated.
Last June, the United Nations announced that the World Health Organization is supporting a South African consortium establishing a COVID-19 mRNA technology transfer hub to train manufacturers in the development of vaccines.
Last month, Pfizer and its vaccine partner BioNTech announced a deal with the Biovac Institute, a state-backed vaccine manufacturer based in Cape Town, South Africa, by which Biovac will provide fill-and-finish services for vaccines that will be distributed within the African Union.
This story was updated on Aug. 11, 2021, to change Biovac to the Biovac Institute and to describe it as a state-backed vaccine manufacturer, not a biopharmaceutical company.