Moderna Chooses Oxfordshire Site for UK Tech Center

07.03.2023 - US vaccine maker Moderna has chosen the Harwell Science Campus in Oxfordshire, England, as the location for its planned UK Innovation and Technology Center which is expected to be in operation by 2025.

The new facility, to be called MITC, will supply the country with mRNA vaccines for what the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech said would be a “wide range” of respiratory ailments. Alongside Covid-19, the biotech said earlier it aimed to work on vaccines for seasonal flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), alongside other potential vaccines.

In mid-2022, Moderna struck a preliminary deal with the British government to build the plant as part of London’s effort to enhance access to rapid pandemic response capabilities. In late December, the company said MITC would eventually be able to make 250 million vaccine doses annually.

The biotech is pursuing similar mRNA manufacturing moves in other countries, including Africa, Canada and Australia. It is also working on plans to launch four commercial subsidiaries in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan.

Senators slam future pricing plans

Meanwhile, back in the US, Moderna is pushing back against criticism of forward-looking pricing plans for its Spikevax-branded Covid vaccine.

Like rival Pfizer, which in January hinted at hefty increases for the Covid vaccine it produces with Germany’s BioNTech, the company has announced it may consider charging $110 to $130 per dose in the US market when it shifts from government contracting to commercial distribution.

The two announcements have drawn fire from the political sector, with liberal Democratic senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders among the biggest critics.

While the senators suggest that Moderna’s planned hikes amount to price gouging, in view of the support it has received from the public sector for the development of Spikevax, CEO Stéphane Bancel told this week’s Wall Street Journal Health Forum that his company “didn’t get a penny.”

Moderna, Bancel said, unsuccessfully sought funding in the first half of 2020 from countries and foundations, and when this was not forthcoming, built a plant with private money. The public funding it received later “only accelerated the development” of the vaccine, he insisted. 

In April 2020, the company acknowledged it had agreed to draw up to $483 million in funding from a federal agency to scale up its production. The funding was designed to cover the cost of clinical studies up to potential approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Bancel told the Wall Street Journal at the time that “this grant is enabling us to aggressively fund the best and largest clinical studies that we can do,” as well as supporting the manufacturing process.

After early-stage data showed promise, the Moderna chief said the company raised its own money and worked with suppliers to increase manufacturing. By the time Washington placed an order, in the second half of 2020, Bancel told the forum that “all of the capital risk was put in place by shareholders.”

Moderna’s first vaccine supply order from the government in 2020 totaled 100 million doses and was worth roughly $1.5 billion. To date, Washington has purchased all doses of Covid vaccines and made them available at no cost to consumers. Pfizer, which took no public funding, said it would sell the doses “at cost.”

US officials have said that after supplies secured under federal contracts run out, vaccine makers should switch to standard commercial distribution.  Financial terms have not been revealed for the new sales model.

Bancel said his company “has plans so that the vaccine won’t cost anything” for uninsured and underinsured individuals.

The US Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions has scheduled a hearing for Mar. 22 to discuss the pricing of Covid vaccines after public health emergency conditions expire on May 11.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist