Moderna, planning big COVID-19 capacity upgrades, pledges 500M doses to COVAX

With up to 3 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses in its sights for 2022, Moderna has locked up a deal to spread its shot far and wide starting late this year. 

Moderna inked a supply pact to provide up to 500 million doses of its pandemic vaccine to COVAX, the global shot distribution initiative co-led by Gavi, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. 

Moderna will sell an initial 34 million doses for delivery in the fourth quarter of 2021, with the option to sell another 466 million doses next year, the company said in a release.

The shots will go out to the 92 COVAX countries covered by an Advance Market Commitment, which helps fund purchase agreements for low- and middle-income nations. Moderna says it's in talks to set aside doses for self-financing participants in the future.

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Moderna is selling the doses at its "lowest tiered price," though it didn't specify what the amount was. Moderna didn't immediately respond to Fierce Pharma's request for comment. 

The news comes just three days after Moderna's shot scored an emergency use listing from WHO—required for the company to supply its vaccine through COVAX. 

“This EUL is an incredible step forward as we continue our quest to ensure that people on every continent have access to our mRNA vaccine so that we can defeat the devastating COVID-19 pandemic," Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a release late last week.

Just before the WHO listing, Moderna blueprinted a significant manufacturing upgrade in the U.S. and Europe, part of its aim to produce 3 billion vaccine doses next year. Getting the company's shot to low- and middle-income countries was an "explicit" focus of the capacity upgrade, Moderna's president, Stephen Hoge, M.D., told Fierce Pharma last week.

As part of the capacity expansion, Moderna plans a 50% boost in drug substance production at own facilities. Swiss CDMO Lonza will double drug substance manufacturing at a plant in Switzerland, while Rovi will more than double formulation, fill-finish and drug substance production at its facility in Spain. 

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Plus, the company has new temperature data that could be a "game changer" when it comes to distribution in areas without a strong cold chain, Hoge said. Alongside last week's manufacturing update, Moderna touted temperature data that support fridge storage for up to three months. 

In an interview with Fierce Pharma last week, Hoge pointed to the rise of variants—and their potential effects on authorized vaccines—as one of the key motivators behind Moderna's supply overhaul. As those variants spread, the company is hearing increasingly from governments, health officials and scientists than an mRNA-based vaccine appears to be the best way forward, he said.

Moderna is only the latest pandemic player to support COVAX. Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline were among the first, agreeing in October to supply 200 million doses of their recombinant vaccine once it's authorized. Pfizer in late January revealed an advance purchase agreement with the initiative for up to 40 million doses in 2021. In February, Novavax, which has yet to score an emergency nod for its shot, unveiled a memorandum of understanding with Gavi to provide 1.1 billion doses of its vaccine hopeful.

So far, COVAX has shipped nearly 50 million vaccine doses to more than 120 countries.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details about COVAX.