Lonza poaches Roche exec for CEO as Moderna COVID-19 collab speeds ahead

Lonza headquarters
Lonza has hired Pierre-Alain Ruffieux, currently Roche's head of global pharma technical operations, as its CEO. (Lonza)

Lonza recently grabbed headlines with its coronavirus vaccine manufacturing partnership with Moderna. Now, the CDMO has found a new chief executive to see the deal through.

Pierre-Alain Ruffieux, currently head of global pharma technical operations at fellow Swiss pharma Roche, will officially take the helm on Nov.1, Lonza said Friday.

He will replace Albert Baehny, the Lonza chairman who’s been filling the CEO role since Marc Funk left the job last November after just about nine months at the helm.

“Manufacturing and process excellence are central to Lonza and our customers’ success,” Baehny said in a statement. “Pierre-Alain has unrivaled experience in these areas in two of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies which will also be a great asset to the Lonza Group.”

Baehny previously said Funk's replacement should have two decades of biopharma experience, and Ruffieux certainly fits that description. After about 12 years at Novartis, he joined Roche as head of global quality and compliance in 2015. In his current position, he oversees all technical development, manufacturing, quality and related regulatory activities across Roche.

A key task ahead of Ruffieux will be executing Lonza's 10-year contract to help Moderna make its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273.

RELATED: Moderna aims for a billion COVID-19 shots a year with Lonza manufacturing tie-up

The partnership aims to start batch production of active components of the vaccine in July, right around the time when Moderna expects to start a large-scale phase 3 trial in 30,000 participants.

The CDMO is racing to get two planned commercial production lines up and running for Moderna. One line in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, could be completed in November, and a second one in Visp, Switzerland, is expected to come online in December, Baehny recently told Reuters.

Lonza is pouring $60 million to $70 million into the first Visp line, while Moderna pays for the first U.S. assembly and potentially three more, he said. The goal is to make enough ingredients for 600 million to 1 billion doses of the vaccine each year.

Another major decision Ruffieux will make is the fate of Lonza’s lagging chemicals business. While its drug services reported sales growth of 11% in 2019, the chemicals franchise registered a decline of 3.2%. Lonza has set that segment into a standalone unit but has yet to determine whether it should keep it, sell it or spin it off.