Lonza and Moderna Extend Covid Vaccine Collaboration

30.04.2021 - Swiss CDMO Lonza and US vaccine maker Moderna have extended and deepened their collaboration on the US biotech’s mRNA- based Covid-19 shot. The new agreement, which calls for the installation of three new production lines and a doubling of existing drug substance production at Lonza’s Visp, Switzerland, site, builds on a 10-year pact signed last year.

Lonza already operates three lines manufacturing drug substance for Moderna’s vaccine at the alpine location, as well as a US line at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The Basel-based company said the new lines will go on stream sequentially at its Ibex Solutions facility in Visp, alongside the existing production lines for the Covid vaccine. The company said each is planned to have a production capacity equivalent to the existing lines and all should be in operation by early 2022.

“Since we began working with Moderna in May 2020, its mRNA vaccine has proved to be pivotal controlling the Covid-19 pandemic. We have commenced and ramped up operations in our four existing production lines at an unprecedented rate and scale,” said Lonza CEO Alain Ruffieux. The company said also that in March this year it added the largest number of employees ever.

Recruitment for the additional production lines at Visp has already commenced as part of wider efforts to support its expansion plans at the site, which Lonza noted includes the announced investment of 200 Swiss francs in a new small molecule manufacturing complex with a capital investment from an unnamed global biophama customer. The CDMO added that it is seeking to attract specialists from the international market, as well as from within Switzerland.

Remarks by Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel at a virtual pandemic summit last week pointed to difficulties in finding enough qualified personnel for highly specialized projects such as vaccine supply. Bancel said the biotech’s European supply chain depends on its Swiss partner, which has faced recruiting issues. Unconfirmed reports suggested this week that – at the urging of the Swiss government – the CDMO may be able to draw temporary workers from a research center at compatriot Nestlé, a move said to be facilitated by the Swiss government. Reuters quoted a Nestlé spokesperson as saying the food giant wanted to play "an active role in global vaccination."

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist