South Korea in talks with Moderna to build $200m vaccine factory

Moderna raising its 2021 production target to at least 600 million doses and is working with partners to boost capacity for deliveries outside the US.

Korean restaurant
South Korea also approved on Friday its own homegrown anti-COVID-19 drug called CT-P59 from the pharmaceutical company, Celltrion [Ed Jones/AFP]

South Korea and the COVID-19 vaccine maker Moderna are in discussions over a $200m investment by the US drugmaker to build a vaccine manufacturing factory in the country, a former government minister who was involved in the talks said.

The news comes as the government also announced on Friday that it has approved pharmaceutical company Celltrion’s anti-COVID-19 treatment for conditional use.

Park Young-sun, who stepped down last month as minister for SMEs and Startups to run for Seoul mayor, made the comments about Moderna in an interview with the Asia Business Daily newswire.

She also said Moderna was highly interested in the Asian market, according to the report.

Her campaign official confirmed the report to the Reuters news agency. Moderna did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Moderna has expressed its interest to invest $200m … and I’ll continue to participate in the discussion for a while, as I had held talks with them as a minister,” Park was quoted as saying.

The campaign official also told Reuters the factory will likely be built in the capital Seoul.

It has yet to be decided when and by how much the plant will be able to produce vaccines, the official said.

Target: One billion doses

The discussion comes as Moderna has raised its 2021 production target to at least 600 million doses and continues to invest and add staff to deliver up to one billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines this year.

With few of its own factories, US-based Moderna is reliant on partners such as Swiss contract drug manufacturer Lonza and Laboratorios Farmaceuticos ROVI in Spain to produce its drug.

In December, it signed a contract with Sweden’s Recipharm for production at a site in France to boost capacity for deliveries outside the United States.

Moderna and other vaccine makers have delayed shipments to several countries in recent weeks, as they adjust short-term production schedules to boost output.

The factory will likely be built in the capital Seoul, according to the campaign of Park Young-sun, who is running for mayor in the capital city [File: Jung Yeon-je/AFP]

Park had her last video conference with Moderna on the day she left the office and the two sides were scheduled to hold a meeting next week, she said.

The report follows a deal announced by South Korea in December to buy 40 million doses of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine after President Moon Jae-in held an online meeting with the US firm’s CEO Stephane Bancel.

In a separate development, South Korea’s drug safety agency announced the approval of Celltrion’s CT-P59, an anti-COVID-19 monoclonal antibody treatment candidate, marking the country’s first homegrown coronavirus treatment.

The Yonhap news agency quoted the Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety as saying that the CT-P59 drug can be administered to patients at higher risk, referring to people aged 60 or older, or with health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, high pressure or chronic diseases that affect the respiratory system.

The ministry has required Celltrion to submit results of the global phase-three clinical trial.

According to Yonhap, Celltrion plans to conduct the late-stage trial in more than 10 countries.

As of Friday, South Korea had reported more than 80,000 COVID-19 cases, with 370 new infections. Of that number, more than 70,000 people have recovered, while 1,459, have died according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters