Kenya wins $500M sweepstakes for Moderna's first African manufacturing site
After a long wait, Moderna now has a home for its first manufacturing site in Africa.
The biotech entered a memorandum of understanding with the Kenyan government to finalize the country as the site for the country’s first manufacturing operations on the continent. Moderna will invest $500 million in the new site that will first focused on drug substance manufacturing, and can later be expanded to include fill-finish and packaging on site.
The site will have the capabilities to produce 500 million doses to Africa each year. The site can also benefit mRNA candidates that are being developed to treat HIV and Nipah Virus, a viral infection that can pass through contaminated foods or animals.
“We are pleased to partner with Moderna in the establishment of this mRNA manufacturing facility to help prepare the country and our sister states on the continent through the African Union to respond to future health crises and stave off the next pandemic,” Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a statement. “This partnership is a testament to the capabilities of our community and our commitment to technological innovation. Moderna’s investment in Kenya will help advance equitable global vaccine access and is emblematic of the structural developments that will enable Africa to become an engine of sustainable global growth.”
The news comes after months of public scrutiny. CEO Stéphane Bancel announced at the beginning of October that his company would invest half a billion dollars into a plant somewhere in Africa, though it didn’t disclose any further details, including where exactly on the continent it would be located.
Moderna is among a number of biotechs that faced criticism for its vaccine sharing from advocacy groups, such as Public Citizen and members from President Joe Biden’s administration, who questioned why the number of doses pledged to lower- and middle-income countries are much lower than other companies. An investigation from the New York Times found that 1 million of Moderna’s doses have gone to countries classified as low-income by the World Bank, compared with 8.4 million from Pfizer and 25 million from J&J. That, Bancel said in a 2021 interview with Endpoints News, can be – in part – chalked up to the disparity in the size of the companies.
The two sides will get help from the US government. In September 2021, the US State Department donated 880,320 doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine to Kenya in collaboration with the African Union and Covax program. Moderna’s mRNA pipeline includes 28 vaccine programs in the prophylactic modality for threats to public health, the company said in a release. The company’s candidate mRNA-1893 is in Phase II trials to treat the Zika virus and it is exploring treatment options for yellow fever. Once the pandemic eases up, Moderna will be able to switch swiftly from manufacturing one drug to another, such as from the Zika vaccine to a flu shot.
BioNTech is, so far, the only other biotech to lay out concrete plans surrounding the long-term use for mRNA on the African continent. The German company said it would transition to making malaria drugs once the pandemic is under control.
The biotech is also pushing to get doses of its Covid-19 vaccine filled in Africa by 2023, so long as the demand is there.