[Vaccine-manufacturing] Wall Street Journal: Moderna Plans to Expand Production to Make Covid-19 Vaccine Boosters, Supply More Countries

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Tue Jun 22 02:17:46 PDT 2021



Moderna Plans to Expand Production to Make Covid-19 Vaccine Boosters,
Supply More Countries

The company is adding production lines outside Boston, betting on shots to
prolong immunity and target new variants

By Peter Loftus | Photographs by Maddie Malhotra for The Wall Street Journal
June 21, 2021 7:00 am ET

NORWOOD, Mass.— Moderna Inc. MRNA 4.54% is adding two new production lines
at the rebuilt former Polaroid plant where it manufactures its Covid-19
vaccine, part of a push to prepare for making booster shots and the future
of the pandemic.

At a site brimming with new steel production tanks and heavy equipment,
construction workers in neon safety vests are working to get one new line
up and running by fall and the other by early 2022.

The additions will help Moderna increase overall production capacity by 50%
at its plant in the Boston suburb of Norwood, company officials said.

Moderna and its manufacturing partners also are expanding production
capacity outside the U.S., with a goal to roughly triple the annual global
output of Covid-19 vaccine doses to about 3 billion in 2022 from as many as
1 billion this year.

“Our plan and our hope is that, as soon as the U.S. has enough doses, we’re
allowed to export so we can help as many countries as we can around the
world,” Moderna Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel said.

Moderna is expanding production capacity at its main plant in Norwood,
Mass., by 50% by early 2022.

Analysts expect the company’s Covid-19 vaccine sales will top $17.1 billion
this year.

The manufacturing expansion shows that Moderna is making a big bet on an
enduring Covid-19 vaccine business as health authorities prepare for life
after the pandemic lifts but the virus remains.

Wall Street analysts say sales of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine could stay
strong for a couple of years but then drop off. The mean estimates of
analysts surveyed by FactSet are that Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine sales will
top $17.1 billion this year, dip slightly to $16.8 billion in 2022 and come
in at $7.4 billion in 2023.

The flurry of activity, at a site with a soundtrack of heavy equipment and
walkie-talkies, is also emblematic of Moderna’s dramatic transformation.

What do you think the future holds for Moderna? Join the conversation below.

The decade-old startup had no commercial products and was struggling to
persuade many investors that it could make messenger RNA technology work
before the coronavirus pandemic hit last year.

Now, it is a major biotechnology industry player as a result of the
effective Covid-19 vaccine that it quickly developed last year. Moderna has
a market capitalization of $81 billion, up from about $7 billion before the

The company has taken over its entire 10-story headquarters building about
15 miles north of Norwood, in Cambridge, Mass., which Moderna previously
shared with other tenants.

Also, it has opened offices in other countries including Switzerland, where
Moderna works with a contract manufacturer to make doses, plus a
back-office support hub in Poland.

“The build has been like nothing I’ve ever experienced, to go as fast as we
did,” said Matt Barrows, Moderna’s senior director of manufacturing with
more than 20 years of experience in biotech. “The build was the journey and
continues to be the journey.”

The expansion hasn’t been without hiccups. Moderna’s initial output was
limited, as the company scrambled to build capacity and expertise.

Moderna ripped apart and rebuilt a portion of the Norwood plant and
constructed an addition to support large-scale manufacturing of its vaccine.

The company’s goal is to roughly triple its annual global output of vaccine
doses to about 3 billion in 2022.

Moderna recently cut supplies to the U.K., Canada and other countries
outside the U.S. because a contract manufacturer in Europe underestimated
how many workers it needed to hire.

Additional setbacks could keep Moderna from meeting its production goals.
Scott Nickerson, head of U.S. manufacturing at Moderna, said the latest
challenge is finding enough raw materials used in the production process,
especially plastic bags, tubes and filters.

The latest expansion will help Moderna boost its overall supply of Covid-19
vaccine doses to the U.S. and other countries, company officials said.

The company said earlier this week it had agreed to provide the U.S. an
additional 200 million doses starting later this year, on top of the 300
million Moderna expects it will have delivered for U.S. use by the end of

Outside the U.S., Moderna has supply deals with the European Union and the
international Covax initiative to provide doses to low- and middle-income

Mr. Bancel said the company has received inquiries from governments in
Asia, Africa and Latin America seeking supplies of Covid-19 vaccines.

The company expects the additional output of doses to include vaccines
intended as booster shots that might be needed to prolong immunity and
better target new coronavirus variants.

Some of the new supply may also be lower-dose shots intended for young
children, if clinical data support their use.

After deciding to pursue a Covid-19 vaccine last year, Moderna quickly made
changes to its original manufacturing plant, the former Polaroid plant
located in an industrial park south of Boston that the biotech originally
opened in 2018.

The company ripped apart and rebuilt a portion of the plant and built an
addition to support large-scale manufacturing of the Covid-19 vaccine,
according to Mr. Nickerson.

That work yielded the three main production lines that have churned out
most of the more than 200 million doses Moderna has delivered for use in
the U.S. since regulators authorized its use in December.

For the expansion, Moderna has already brought in some of the steel tanks,
white plastic drums, tubes and other equipment needed for production,
waiting for finishing touches and validation.

The company currently makes between 40 million to 50 million doses a month
in the U.S., most of which is made at the Norwood plant, but some of which
is made at a contractor’s plant in New Hampshire. Moderna declined to break
down the production or specify the expected monthly dose output after the

Across a parking lot from the plant, Moderna has converted a former
auto-mechanic school into technology-development laboratories where workers
in white lab coats and safety goggles hone manufacturing techniques that
can be transferred to the production sites.

Down a path through the woods is an office building, formerly used by
employee-benefits consultant Mercer, which Moderna is now converting into
quality-control labs and a site for manufacturing doses for clinical

Moderna has been on a hiring spree. Last year, the company added nearly 500
employees, boosting its workforce to 1,300. Mr. Nickerson said it is “in
the middle of hiring that many more all over again.”

The new hires are a mix of people with experience in biotech manufacturing
as well as fresh college graduates with engineering and chemistry degrees
from nearby universities including Northeastern University and Worcester
Polytechnic Institute, Mr. Barrows said.

Also to support the expansion, Moderna is firming up relationships with
material vendors and manufacturing partners, company officials said.

The company has in recent weeks signed new or expanded contracts with
manufacturers including Lonza Ltd. and Samsung Biologics Co. , and
raw-material suppliers including Aldevron LLC. which supplies the starter
genetic material template for vaccine production.

Moderna is converting another building in Norwood into quality-control labs
and a site for manufacturing doses for clinical testing.

Write to Peter Loftus at peter.loftus at wsj.com

Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International
41 22 791 6727
thiru at keionline.org

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