Moderna turbocharges its supply chain, upping commitment to 3B doses per year for a future where boosters are likely
With both AstraZeneca and J&J facing major hurdles in their global Covid-19 vaccine rollouts, the burden has fallen on Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech to step up their games in terms of production. Now, looking at a future in which boosters and variant vaccines will likely be needed, Moderna is adding armor to its supply chain.
Moderna is now planning to produce up to 3 billion doses in 2022, doubling capacity at contract sites in Switzerland and Spain run by Lonza and Rovi, respectively, and increasing drug substance manufacturing by 50% at its US facilities. The expansions will also allow Moderna to now produce between 800 million and 1 billion doses in 2021, the company said.
The actual number of doses will depend on the manufacturing split between 100-microgram vaccine doses and potentially lower-dose boosters and pediatric vaccines, the company said. The financial terms of the expansion weren’t disclosed, but Moderna said it is funding the move out of pocket.
“We said ‘what can we do for the world?’ and we basically went back to our board and said ‘we need to do massive investment,'” Bancel told Endpoints News. “We need to aim to increase our capacity for next year so that we can make sure we can vaccinate and boost everybody.”
While competitors Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sanofi and J&J have all reached agreements with Covax, the global initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19, Moderna has not. Bancel would not discuss the terms of a potential deal with the coalition Wednesday, only saying that his company is “very active” in the final discussions.
Despite the paper agreements with other companies, Covax has fallen well short of its goals, distributing just over 40 million doses to date.
On top of finished doses, Moderna will also stockpile a “safety stock” of raw materials and finished drug substance used in the vaccine as a means of avoiding raw supply shortages. That’s been a running issue for Moderna, recently leading it cut the number of doses it planned to send to Canada by April in half. It’s also troubled other vaccine makers, including Novavax and India’s Serum Institute.
Today, the team at Moderna is set to get CEOs of the companies that supply raw materials on the phone, and lay out just what their expectations are for the next year, Bancel said. The current shortages could not have been predicted, but if this boost in manufacturing is to be successful, Bancel said it is vital to prevent the next one.
“We’re still tight on raw materials, because a lot of people around the world are using them,” Bancel said.
Aiding its ambitious distribution plan is new data unveiled today showing the vaccine can be viable with a three-month refrigerated shelf life. That could be a big deal since Moderna’s shot is only approved for refrigeration of up to one month and seven months in a standard freezer. The extended shelf life could be crucial for delivering and administering the vaccine successfully to smaller locations within countries in which refrigeration is sparse and freezers are a rarity.
As it looks to expand its partnership with two of its primary contract manufacturers, Moderna has also added some production heft in recent months. French drugmaker Sanofi entered an agreement earlier this week with Moderna to help manufacture 200 million doses of the company’s Covid-19 vaccine at its Ridgefield, NJ site. That will begin in September.
New Jersey CDMO Catalent announced on April 6 that it was upping production capacity of the vaccine in its Bloomington, IN biologics facility through its new high-speed vial filling line. Those doses are expected to be ready in May.
“We said look, we have a certain responsibility as a company and we will invest aggressively … so that next year we can have a big impact,” Bancel said. “If you think about it, look at the population of the planet, you see that 70% of people want the vaccine, which is what we’re seeing in polls across the world, and if we can make 3 billion vaccines, that will be, for a company that just launched its first product a few months ago, extraordinary.”