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Moderna Expands Vaccine Research, Mfring in Asia

Syringe and three vials

(Arek Socha, Pixabay)

24 May 2021. Moderna Inc. and South Korea signed agreements Saturday on joint research and manufacturing opportunities for vaccines against viruses in Korea. The Cambridge, Massachusetts biotechnology company also agreed with Samsung Biologics, the company’s biologics production arm, to begin manufacturing Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine, and received emergency authorization to distribute its Covid-19 vaccine in Japan.

Moderna develops vaccines and therapies against infectious diseases with a technology that synthesizes messenger RNA or mRNA, a nucleic acid based on the genetic code from DNA, and used by cells to produce amino acids in proteins for cellular functions. Moderna manipulates the coding region in the mRNA chemistry to provide instructions for cells to produce proteins with specific medicinal properties. For protective vaccines, Moderna delivers mRNA with instructions for cells to produce proteins with enough resemblance to viruses to generate an immune response, but are still safe for the recipient.

One agreement, with the Korea National Institute of Health, opens discussions to identify areas for research collaboration, including preclinical studies and clinical trials, on mRNA vaccines against viral diseases prevalent in South Korea. A separate agreement, with the country’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy explores manufacturing opportunities for mRNA vaccines in South Korea.

On Friday, Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety granted Moderna conditional authorization for the company’s Covid-19 vaccine, now branded as Covid-19 Vaccine Moderna. Korea is gaining access to 40 million doses of the vaccine. The next day, Moderna agreed with Samsung Biologics, the contract development and manufacturing division of the electronics company, for large scale manufacturing of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine, starting with filling vials and packaging at Samsung’s facility in Incheon, South Korea.

50 million doses for immediate distribution in Japan

“We thank the South Korean government,” says Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel in a company statement, “and we look forward to exploring this collaboration to bring mRNA vaccines that may help address areas of unmet need. We will continue to explore options for establishing potential local manufacturing opportunities in South Korea.”

The agreements with the Korean government follow discussions in Washington, D.C. between President Biden and Republic of Korea president Moon Jae-in on Friday. A joint statement following the talks noted …

[W]e agree to establish a comprehensive KORUS Global Vaccine Partnership to strengthen joint response capabilities for infectious disease through international vaccine cooperation, including focus areas on global expansion of production and related materials, as well as scientific and technological cooperation. Drawing on each of our strengths, Korea and the United States will work collaboratively to expand manufacturing of vaccines that have been demonstrated safe and effective, as assessed by Stringent Regulatory Authorities and/or the World Health Organization, for global benefit.

In addition, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in Japan on Friday granted an emergency authorization for Covid-19 Vaccine Moderna in that country. Takeda Pharmaceutical Company in Osaka agreed last October to import and distribute 50 million doses of the Moderna vaccine in Japan, with distribution expected to begin immediately. Takeda and Moderna are in discussions for supplying another 50 million doses, beginning in 2022.

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