mRNA is ‘the future of disease prevention’.
Victoria will soon become the first place in the southern hemisphere to manufacture mRNA vaccines, thanks to an agreement between Moderna, the Victorian government and the Commonwealth.
More than a year after scientists and medical researchers began lobbying the Morrison government to establish a home-grown facility to reduce the country’s reliance on offshore producers, a deal has finally been inked.
Moderna is expected to pick one of two shortlisted greenfield sites in Melbourne for its expansion into Australia as early as next month, according to reports.
Victorian Innovation Minister, Jaala Pulford, says the new deal will give Australians direct access to domestically manufactured mRNA vaccines.
Pulford travelled to Boston last week to take her first look at the Moderna facility and to meet the officials who will be responsible for setting up the company in Melbourne.
Pulford says with the new deal inked, the Victorian plant will soon create up to 500 jobs during construction, and a further 500 ongoing roles across the industry.
“This is a testament to Victoria’s place as the biotech centre of the southern hemisphere — and that’s not happened by accident,” she said.
“We have brilliant research institutes, we have exceptional universities, and those things are, and have always been, a magnet for talent.”
Pulford has been a regular character behind the scenes driving Australia’s ‘technological innovation’ towards mRNA, not just for COVID vaccines, but for a plethora of diseases moving forward.
The Andrews government members was spotted earlier this month at the Doherty Institute, who are interestingly now calling on blood donors to come forward both before and after booster vaccination.
The Victorian Government announced last year a $50 million investment in new critical manufacturing technology and research to provide certainty of supply of new vaccines and lifesaving treatments in Australia.
By the time the facility opens in 2024, it will be capable of producing about 100 million doses of mRNA vaccines a year and is also predicted to ‘safeguard Australia’ from future pandemics and other diseases.
Moderna’s entry into manufacturing in Australia means the country will eventually have two cutting-edge vaccine manufacturing plants in Melbourne, the second being CSL’s $800 million cell-based flu vaccine facility, which is set to be ready by mid-2026.
Messenger-RNA (mRNA) is a type of vaccine technology first pioneered in COVID vaccines where the vaccine delivers genetic ‘blueprints’ to cells to teach the body to fight a disease, unlike traditional vaccines, which contain a weak or inactive form of a virus.
Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is its first commercial product, but the Massachusetts-based biotech has long been focused on using mRNA technology for a range of medical treatments.
Earlier this week, the company outlined its global health strategy, pledging to launch vaccine programs for 15 diseases that pose a particular threat to low and middle income countries by 2025.
This includes work on vaccines for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.
To this end, the company will soon embark on a hiring spree to ensure it has enough talent to staff the new Melbourne facility, according to reports.
The company will also be speaking to Australian universities about its current and future talent needs.
The company has since launched a program called ‘mRNA Access’, which will let medical researchers use Moderna’s technology platform as part of their own work on medicines for neglected diseases.
Moderna managing director for Australia and New Zealand, Michael Azrak, says Australia’s medical research landscape had influenced his company’s decision to set up shop here and that there were already advanced discussions with academic institutes about how they could use mRNA Access.
“We do want to definitely look at Australia as a key country for our clinical trial platform.”
“We will have the need for quite a number of science grads and PhDs,” he said.
“The plant is a 10-year partnership. It is going to be very, very heavily dependent on highly educated modern manufacturing graduates.”
A very telling quote about what is coming to Australia.
Based off of the existing multi-million dollar Moderna manufacturing plant in Boston, this new facility in Melbourne will transform Australian medicine for generations to come.
The template for Australia’s first mRNA production plant is Moderna’s $110 million manufacturing lab in the Massachusetts town of Norwood, in greater Boston, which opened in July 2018 as the company sought to expand its offerings of therapeutic drugs.
Located on what was once a Polaroid plant in the 1970s and ’80s, Moderna took over the facility.
“MRNA is the software of life,” says Moderna’s chief technical operations and quality officer, Juan Andres, who is set to set up a similar state-of-the-art production plant in Australia.
“We believe the sky’s the limit.”
Today, the company about 44 products in the pipeline, Andres says, including some in clinical studies and trials to combat HIV, respiratory syncytial virus, cancer and cystic fibrosis.
But it’s the COVID-19 vaccine and booster that helped bring in US $17.7 billion ($24.6 billion) in sales last year.
Michael Azrak says the company will continue to focus on respiratory virus vaccines, and is hopeful it can develop a combination shot that would be useful as COVID-19 becomes an ‘endemic’.
Watch this space.
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