Moderna eyes beefed-up vaccine production with the help of U.S.-brokered manufacturing talks: report

The feds already had a hand in Merck and Johnson & Johnson's "wartime" COVID-19 production pact. Now, Moderna is reportedly in government-brokered talks with a potential manufacturing partner.

Moderna on Tuesday met with specialty drugmaker Nexus Pharmaceuticals to discuss manufacturing of its mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine at the company's new factory in Wisconsin, Reuters reports, citing sources close to the matter.

Nexus hasn't produced COVID-19 shots so far, but its plant has the capacity to process and fill some 30 million doses a month, the sources told the news service. 

The meeting was set up by senior White House officials, including David Kessler, the former FDA chief who now heads up the nation's pandemic response, and Tim Manning, the country's COVID-19 supply coordinator, the news outlet wrote. They've also brokered talks between Nexus and Johnson & Johnson, the sources said. 

Moderna is taking steps to boost vaccine capacity as needed, Ray Jordan, chief corporate affairs officer at the company, said via email, but "by practice, Moderna wouldn’t be commenting on any specific potential discussions or negotiations," he said.

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As for areas where the biotech continues to bulk up, Jordan pointed to the recent expansion of Moderna's manufacturing tie-up with ROVI, which will now tackle active substance production alongside fill-finish.

Under the deal, ROVI will install a new production line at its Granada, Spain, plant, with expected capacity for more than 100 million doses per year. The company says it aims to begin supplying markets outside the U.S. in the third quarter of 2021.

As for the Nexus meeting, it remains unclear whether the companies will connect, Reuters' sources said. They added that funding from the Defense Production Act would be integral to the deal's success. 

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The news comes as concerns mount over COVID-19 vaccine supplies in the back half of the year, particularly amid a pause in Johnson & Johnson vaccinations as the CDC and FDA investigate reports of blood clots in shot recipients. New variants have also raised questions about the need for follow-up boosters. 

In a supply update Tuesday, Moderna said it had so far delivered some 132 million vaccine doses worldwide. Moderna says it delivered around 88 million doses to the U.S. in the first quarter and about 117 million cumulatively through April 12. The company says it's on track to deliver its second 100-million-dose tranche to the U.S. by the end of May, and 100 million doses more by the end of July.

Meanwhile, this isn't the first time the feds have gotten involved in COVID-19 manufacturing. After realizing J&J had fallen behind on its production targets, officials jumped in to coordinate a "wartime" production pact between the two companies. Merck will offer up two of its facilities to J&J, one for drug substances and another for filling and packaging.