Moderna plans to invest about $500 million to build a factory in Africa to make up to 500 million doses of mRNA vaccines each year, including its COVID-19 shot, as pressure grows on the pharmaceutical industry to manufacture drugs on the continent.
Moderna’s (MRNA.O) proposed site will also include bottling and packaging capabilities. The company said it would begin the process of deciding the country and location soon.
“We expect to manufacture our COVID-19 vaccine as well as additional products within our mRNA vaccine portfolio at this facility,” CEO Stephane Bancel said in a statement on Thursday.
The move comes as a debate rages between drugmakers and governments about waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic and give more developing countries access to shots after rich nations bought up most of this year’s supply.
The United States said it would support it, but the idea has faced opposition from pharmaceutical firms, which argue they need to oversee any technology transfer due to the complexity of the manufacturing process.
Pfizer (PFE.N) and its partner BioNTech (22UAy.DE), struck a deal in July for South Africa’s Biovac to help make around 100 million doses a year of their COVID-19 vaccine for Africa.
But Moderna is the first company to plan its own factory on the continent. It has supplied more than 500 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine so far.
The company wants to “extend Moderna’s societal impact through the investment in a state-of-the-art mRNA manufacturing facility”, Bancel said.
The World Health Organization has been trying to persuade Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech to join forces with its plan for an African tech transfer hub.
A senior WHO official told Reuters last month there hadn’t been much progress in talks with Moderna.
On Wednesday, Sweden and Denmark paused the use of Moderna’s vaccine for younger age groups after reports of possible rare cardiovascular side effects and citing data from an unpublished Nordic study. The shares closed down 9% in New York on Wednesday.
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