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Moderna could begin manufacturing unproven coronavirus vaccine in July, CEO says

Stephane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna Therapeutics Inc., sits for a photograph at the company’s office in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Adam Glanzman | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Moderna hopes to begin manufacturing its as-yet unapproved coronavirus vaccine “as early as July,” CEO Stephane Bancel told CNBC on Friday.

The biotech company announced earlier Friday a 10-year partnership with Swiss drugmaker Lonza to accelerate production of the experimental vaccine.

“We are hoping with Lonza to start making product for the corona vaccine as early as July,” Bancel said on “Squawk Box.” “Our team is ready to start dosing as soon as we get the green light.”

Moderna is pushing forward with manufacturing the potential vaccine, called mRNA-1273, in hopes that it proves safe for humans and effective against the coronavirus. However, the vaccine candidate remains in a phase 1 trial. 

The potential vaccine, which was developed by researchers at Moderna and the National Institutes of Health, became the first candidate to enter a phase 1 human trial in March and full results have not been released. Bancel added that data from the phase 1 trial “looks positive” with regard to safety.

Earlier this week, Moderna announced it has submitted an application to the Food and Drug Administration to move the candidate to a phase 2 trial. The company says a phase 3 trial could begin as soon as fall of 2020. 

The NIH said their researchers were able to quickly produce a candidate with Moderna because the two organizations were already partnered, researching “related coronaviruses.”

Moderna, as well as other companies in the race to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus, is ramping up manufacturing ahead of approval so that it can rapidly distribute doses if their candidate proves effective against the virus. Bancel said his team on their own could manufacture about 100 million doses per year, but with the Lonza partnership, they hope to produce about 1 billion doses per year.

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“If you can only make a few million vials, it’s not going to be really helping the global public health issue we have,” he said. “Our goal is to make the vaccine available around the world.”

Last month, Moderna announced it received a $483 million contract from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to accelerate the development of its vaccine candidate. Shares of Moderna rose more than 15% on the news. The company’s shares were up more than 6% in early trading Friday.

The vaccine uses synthetic messenger RNA to inoculate against the virus. Such treatments help the body immunize against a virus and can potentially be developed and manufactured more quickly than traditional vaccines.

The race to develop a vaccine is intensely competitive and investors are watching closely for signs of progress on treatments and vaccines. Bancel said it will take more than one company to beat back the coronavirus, which according to data from Johns Hopkins University has infected more than 3.2 million people around the world and killed at least 230,000.

“No one company can help the entire planet,” he said.

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