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Moderna ramps up investments to triple vaccine output, eyes boosters

·Senior Reporter
·3-min read
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Moderna (MRNA) is ramping up its investments in production capacity to more than triple its annual COVID-19 vaccine output for 2022, paving the way for more messenger RNA COVID-19 vaccines to be in circulation next year.

CEO Stéphane Bancel said the company has planned the "multi-billion dollar" investment in order to help combat the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The investments will help double raw material production at its Swiss-based partner Lonza (LONN.SW), more than double formulation and fill/finish capacity at Spain-based partner Rovi, and increase manufacturing at Moderna's U.S.-based plants by 50%.

However, the plan stops short of sharing intellectual property with other companies to increase production this year, drawing the criticism of Democratic Senators imploring Moderna, Pfizer (PFE), and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) to boost access to vaccines around the world.

Even though Moderna said last October it would waive enforcement of patents and was willing to share intellectual property (IP), Bancel told Yahoo Finance it doesn't have the bandwidth and doing so would be at the detriment of the company's 2022 outlook. The company is maxed out with its current capacity for 2021 doses, and isn't as big as competitor Pfizer, he said.

"Because we are still a small company, you know Moderna is 1,300 people ... the tech transfer would take resources away this year, to prepare for next year if we were to outsource the technology. That will limit our ability to make as many doses as we can this year," Bancel said.

Bancel met virtually with U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, according to Reuters, to discuss the IP issue. Meanwhile, the U.S. has increased its investment in Moderna by more than $230 million, and the company's 2022 commitments from various countries continue to roll in.

Even as many Western countries and Israel are rapidly inoculating a greater percentage of their populations, the World Health Organization has said the virus will linger as a threat until a majority of the world is vaccinated — which could take until 2023.

Booster boom

A need for booster shots could prove key for Moderna's growth, whether targeting specific variants or lower-dose options for 2022 and beyond. Research is already underway, with the first round of boosters expected by fall of this year.

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University's School of Public Health, recently said he believes 2021 is too soon for a booster shot in the U.S. for most Americans — as the nations is still working through its first round of vaccinations.

But Bancel said there likely will be a need by fall for older and more vulnerable Americans, who began getting vaccinated in December and January, because their immunity wanes more quickly than that of healthier adults. 

"Your chance of being sick, if you got vaccinated in December 2020 and January 2021, is pretty high," Bancel said.

In addition, the ongoing global spread leaves the door open for even more variants — including the nightmare scenario of a mutation escaping vaccine protection.

"Look what's happening in India now. They thought they were done with the virus. They were not," Bancel said.

More from Anjalee:

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