Moderna lays plans for new Canadian mRNA vaccine manufacturing site—and more could be on the way

Moderna manufacturing site
On top of its coronavirus jab, Moderna will use the new facility to provide Canadians with a portfolio of vaccines against other respiratory diseases, pending approval. (Moderna)

It appears one North American manufacturing project isn’t enough for Moderna. Just months after laying out a colossal expansion at its facilities in Massachusetts, the drugmaker now has plans to migrate its mRNA manufacturing to the Great White North. 

Moderna has signed a memorandum of understanding—a nonlegally binding agreement forged on the road to an official contract—with the Canadian government to build a “state-of-the-art messenger RNA” vaccine manufacturing facility, the company announced Tuesday. 

While light on details or an official timeline, the idea is to eventually use the site to supply Canada with “direct access to rapid pandemic response capabilities," including the company’s two-dose COVID-19 vaccine. 

On top of its coronavirus jab, Moderna could also use the new facility to provide Canadians with a portfolio of vaccines against other respiratory diseases, such as seasonal influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, pending regulatory approvals, the company said.

The Canadian manufacturing pact might be just the beginning. Moderna is “in discussion with other governments about potential collaborations built on a similar model," according to the statement. 

Moderna, once a little-known mRNA biotech before its COVID-19 efforts launched it to pharma stardom, has worked around the clock to rapidly scale its manufacturing capabilities while simultaneously inking pandemic supply contracts worth billions of doses. 

The company is angling to supply upward of 1 billion shots by the end of this year and 3 billion by the end of 2022. And with more vaccines comes more sales: The company’s outstanding 2021 orders are now worth about $20 billion. 

The company has promised to deliver 44 million doses of its pandemic jab to Canada, which recently announced it now has enough vaccine supply on hand to cover all of its eligible citizens.

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Meanwhile, as many countries work through ambitious vaccine campaigns, Moderna and others are debating over the merits of boosters. A third dose of the company's vaccine may be needed in the Northern Hemisphere before the winter amid the rapid spread of the delta variant, first found in India, R&D chief Stephen Hoge told analysts late last week. 

Moderna’s Canadian expansion comes on the heels of another major renovation project it’s undertaking at a manufacturing site in Norwood, Massachusetts. The updated facility will boost its COVID-19 vaccine production capacity by 50% come the end of 2021 and beginning of 2022. 

Moderna’s frenzied effort to bolster mRNA manufacturing hasn’t been without its bumps. In the U.S., the company is having a hard time recruiting talent in Massachusetts after it “almost industrialized” the hiring process in 2020, The Boston Globe first reported in late July, citing comments by company execs at a hearing. 

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That’s not to mention the company’s struggles overseas. Moderna has been forced to delay its delivery timeline to countries like South Korea because its “ex-U.S. manufacturing partners are facing delays due to manufacturing laboratory issues that occurred in the past days, slowing down the release to markets outside of the U.S.,” according to a spokesperson. 

For its part, however, Moderna believes its production is “back on track,” and there should only be a “short-term adjustment” in the upcoming two to four weeks, the company said.