As continent's vaccination rate sits below 5%, Moderna announces investment in mRNA manufacturing in Africa
After mounting pressure from competitors, Moderna has signed on to invest $500 million in an mRNA manufacturing site in Africa that could make up to 500 million doses a year.
It’s a move into a region that has been largely neglected historically by Big Pharma, a trend that’s held strong throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. The Moroccan government recently dropped $500 million into a new Recipharm fill-finish plant, and Grifols is building an IV bag plant in Nigeria, but those projects aren’t set to be up and running until 2023 and 2024, respectively.
Just about 4.4% of all Africans have been fully vaccinated for Covid-10, according to the World Health Organization.
The site will produce up to 500 million doses at the 50 µg dose level, and the facility will include drug substance manufacturing on top of fill-finish and packaging capabilities. Moderna will next have to focus on selecting a site for the facility. This fits in to Moderna’s recently announced rapid ramp-up strategy.
“On behalf of our growing team, partners and shareholders, we are determined to extend Moderna’s societal impact through the investment in a state-of-the-art mRNA manufacturing facility in Africa,” CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a press release Thursday. “While we are still working to increase capacity in our current network to deliver vaccines for the ongoing pandemic in 2022, we believe it is important to invest in the future. We expect to manufacture our COVID-19 vaccine as well as additional products within our mRNA vaccine portfolio at this facility.”
The move comes as Moderna has resisted pressure from the White House to up production and donations of the Covid-19 shot. President Joe Biden’s administration has urged Moderna for months to up production domestically, and at least one official told Politico that it believes that the reluctance has been driven by the threat of selling the jabs at-cost.
The US government dumped $200 million over the summer into a South African plant to ensure that Africans had access to J&J’s vaccines. But in August, The New York Times reported that many of those doses had been exported back to Europe. At that time, just 2% of Africans were vaccinated, compared to more than 60% of adults in Europe. J&J’s jab was particularly crucial in Africa because it’s a single shot, making it easier for people in rural areas to get fully inoculated.
The African Union has ordered 400 million doses of vaccines for the countries within it, but few have been delivered.
The announcement comes months after BioNTech, its big competitor in the mRNA space, announced it would pivot the focus of its new manufacturing sites in Africa from Covid-19 treatments to malaria when the time became right, and a day after the WHO approved GlaxoSmithKline’s malaria vaccine.
The company’s pipeline has 20 vaccine candidates, including a BARDA-funded Zika vaccine that is in Phase II, a combination Covid-19 and flu vaccine and an HIV jab that is currently in preclinical development.