LONDON: US biotech firm Moderna will build a new research and manufacturing centre in Britain to develop vaccines against new COVID-19 variants, other respiratory illnesses and help improve readiness for any future pandemics.
The facility is expected to start producing shots in 2025 and Britain has made a commitment to buy Moderna’s vaccines for the next decade under the agreement.
Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines, which use messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, were among those deployed in Britain to tackle the crisis and enable Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reopen the economy from stringent lockdowns.
Moderna Chief Executive Stephane Bancel said the priority was to develop a shot combining refreshed boosters against COVID, flu and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).
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“By building a plant in the UK, we are also providing the UK Government - which has a long term partnership with us, with this agreement - with the ability to be pandemic ready,” Bancel told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.
“That capacity that we’re building in the UK, that they are committed to buying the product for the next ten years, this can be reallocated very quickly to anything they want.”
Britain’s health ministry said that the pandemic had shown mRNA technology to be one of the fastest routes to develop new vaccines, and could be applied to other areas, such as cancer, flu, dementia and heart disease.
“Our investment will guarantee jabs in arms against some of the toughest viruses out there, bringing us to the forefront of the fight against future threats,” PM Johnson said in a statement.
Britain in December said it had ordered 60 million more Moderna COVID-19 vaccine doses to be delivered in 2022 at 2023.
Bancel said he aimed for a variant-specific booster to be ready by August, ahead of Britain’s planned autumn booster campaign. The success of its vaccine has led the company to look to expand globally through new manufacturing facilities.
Moderna has announced manufacturing facilities in Kenya, Canada and Australia.
Further details, such as the location of the final plant in Britain, were being finalised, and financial terms were not disclosed.
“We have a shortlist of a couple of sites,” Bancel said, adding that he hoped construction would start this year.
“We should be shortly able to announce the location.”