London: Moderna Inc., one of the leaders among U.S. companies developing experimental vaccines against the coronavirus, entered a pact with Lonza Group AG aimed at manufacturing 1 billion doses a year.
The companies announced a global agreement under which the Swiss chemical and pharmaceutical company will ramp up output of the proposed vaccine, which is based on a novel technology that relies on genetic material called mRNA. They expect the first batches to be produced in the U.S. in July.
The agreement is one of several partnerships being struck between drugmakers as they rush to bring protection against Covid-19 to the market. On Thursday, AstraZeneca Plc announced an agreement to make an experimental coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford, eyeing production capacity for 100 million doses by the end of the year.
Because prospects for drugs to treat Covid-19 remain uncertain, rolling out vaccines on a widespread scale could be key to reopening economies from lockdowns. Otherwise new waves of infections could emerge, potentially on a seasonal pattern like the flu. If Moderna and Lonza reach their target of 1 billion doses a year, that would be enough for more than one-eighth of the world’s population.
With dozens of projects under way around the world, the Trump administration wants to make shots available for Americans by the end of 2020. Richard Hatchett, head of the Oslo-based Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, has said cooperation between drugmakers could accelerate the process of bringing out a vaccine, which normally would take a year or more.
Moderna’s experimental shot induces the body’s own cells to make virus-like proteins that stimulate an immune response and prepare for an actual infection. It was one of the first proposed coronavirus vaccines to enter human trials. The company said it plans to begin the next phase of studies this quarter.
Shares of Moderna, which is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have more than doubled since the start of the year as its studies of its vaccine candidate have advanced. In premarket trading Friday, they rose 3%.
The pact with Lonza will enable a tenfold increase in manufacturing, which Moderna has already begun, according to a statement.
The smaller players in the race won’t be able to produce a vaccine in large quantities on their own. Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc., another U.S. biotech company in the first stage of testing an experimental vaccine, said Thursday that it agreed to expand a manufacturing collaboration with Germany’s Richter-Helm Biologics.
A partnership between Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline Plc announced last month brought together a pair of pharmaceutical giants with manufacturing might. Sanofi will test its experimental coronavirus vaccine with Glaxo supplying so-called adjuvants, additional ingredients that improve efficacy and make it easier to produce shots in larger quantities.
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