Moderna coronavirus vaccine maker identifies "main challenges" for mass manufacturing
A blood sample is prepared for analysis by a laboratory technician at the Accel Research Sites on August 4, 2020 in DeLand, Florida, USA.
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Moderna's announcement earlier this week that its vaccine was more than 94% effective at preventing the coronavirus, according to preliminary trial data, raised hopes around the world that a solution to the pandemic that has killed over 1.3 million people may be in sight .
The news followed on from the equally positive news from Pfizer and BioNTech that their vaccine candidate was over 90% effective. The news from Moderna was hailed as a "game changer" and Pfizer's managing director described the vaccination performance as "a great day for science and humanity".
Given the unprecedented logistical challenge of manufacturing and distributing vaccines to a world population of approximately 7 billion, should they receive final regulatory approval, attention quickly turned to practical issues.
Vaccines must be manufactured and transported under certain (and cold) conditions, otherwise they can become ineffective. This poses a major challenge for global drug manufacturers when it comes to distributing vaccines.
The Swiss drug manufacturer Lonza has teamed up with Moderna and plans to produce 400 million doses of the vaccine annually. The US company is aiming for a total of 500 to 1 billion cans in 2021. Anyone who receives the vaccine, like Pfizer's shot, needs two doses to show how long it could take to vaccinate internationally at current production capacity.
Lonza will manufacture ingredients in Moderna's vaccine, officially known as mRNA-1273, at its headquarters in the United States and Switzerland. Company chairman Albert Baehny told CNBC the "big challenges" drug manufacturers like him are facing in increasing production.
"We can only produce more than 500 million cans a year if we install additional production lines. So it is clear that we need additional investment in installation if we are to produce more than 500 million (per year) in the future," said he CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" on Wednesday.
Baehny identified other vaccine manufacturing challenges that the company has faced since its partnership with Moderna began.
"There are a couple of issues, the first is speed. We only started 10, 11 months ago and now we're producing the first commercial batches of the compound in North America and we're planning the first batch of commercial volume in a fortnight or more in the Switzerland, so the speed was a challenge. "
"The second challenge is to find the people. For each production line you need 60 to 70 trained people. We installed four production lines so that you can identify and train these people," he said.
"Coupled with the speed (problem), you need to have access to the equipment, install the equipment, and then test your production line so that (these are) big challenges that are solved or almost solved in less than a year." "
The temperature and cooling of the vaccines during transport are another major challenge.
Pfizer's vaccine requires a storage temperature of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit or -70 degrees Celsius. For comparison, Moderna said Monday that its vaccine would stay stable for up to 30 days at 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit – the temperature of a regular household or medical refrigerator. It can be stored at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit for up to six months.
"These are standard conditions in the pharmaceutical industry," said Baehny. "So I don't see many problems with the distribution, shipping and storage of Moderna's vaccine," he said.