Swiss drugmaker sets new goal to make Moderna COVID-19 vaccine ingredients

John Miller, Reuters

Posted at Jun 03 2020 12:49 AM

The logo of Swiss pharmaceutical group Lonza is seen at its headquarters in Basel, Switzerland, March 2, 2020. Arnd Wiegmann, Reuters/File

ZURICH - Lonza aims to speed completion of 2 commercial production lines for Moderna Inc's trial COVID-19 vaccine so manufacturing could start 4 to 6 weeks earlier than planned if the project is successful, the Swiss drugmaker's chairman said Tuesday.

Lonza, which hopes to make smaller batches of active ingredients for the US biotechnology company's experimental vaccine by July, now aims to finish a commercial production line in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a month or so earlier than its original December 2020 target, Albert Baehny told Reuters.

A second commercial line, at Lonza's site in Visp, Switzerland, had been slated for completion in January or February 2021 but now could be ready in December, he added.

Moderna, which enlisted Lonza in May in a 10-year manufacturing contract, is racing with 100-plus other vaccine projects, having last week dosed initial participants in a 600-patient study.

With accelerated deadlines, Lonza hopes to be ready to make vaccine ingredients quickly, should Moderna's candidate pass muster with regulators.

"Four to 6 weeks would be remarkable, if we can gain this time," Baehny, also Lonza's interim CEO, said during a video interview.

"We know the technology, we feel comfortable with the manufacturing steps. If we can accelerate, let's do it. This is pandemic speed."

He acknowledged potential bottlenecks, including hiring 60-70 employees to run each production line, availability of contractors and possible shortages of equipment like fermentation gear, could slow things down.

Lonza is financing the first $60-$70 million commercial production line in Visp, he said.

Moderna, flush with $483 million from the US government and $1 billion-plus in fresh capital, is paying for the first US production line, and up to 3 more at Lonza facilities in Portsmouth and Visp, Baehny said.

Combined capacity could produce ingredients for 600 million to 1 billion vaccine doses annually, he said, depending on the size of the dose needed.