Contract drug manufacturer Lonza will double its production capacity in Switzerland for Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine, helping boost the U.S. drugmaker’s output to as many as 3 billion doses in 2022.
The deal announced on Thursday extends a 10-year pact and foresees three further production lines in Visp, Switzerland, beyond the three Lonza built since last year.
The expansion, which encompasses moves elsewhere in Europe and the United States to lift Moderna’s ingredient production and bottling capacity, ups the pressure on Lonza to find qualified workers to run its growing network of facilities dedicated to the U.S. company’s complex mRNA vaccine.
Moderna has warned second-quarter vaccine deliveries to countries including Britain and Canada face delays, saying “the trajectory of manufacturing ramp-up”, which includes Lonza’s plants, left a shortfall.
Lonza said it would take lessons from its race to get the first production lines into operation to speed up commissioning of the new facilities, which are expected to be operational in the earlier part of 2022.
Lonza didn’t give a value for the extension with Moderna, but it has said the production lines it built last year cost 70 million Swiss francs ($77 million) each and require 60-70 employees.
“Recruitment for the additional production lines has already commenced,” Lonza said. “The company has taken learnings from its previous ramp-up of Moderna drug substance production lines in Visp, and is confident that it can accelerate the operationalization of the new facilities.”
In February, Lonza Chief Executive Pierre-Alain Ruffieux said it would take a couple of months before the first three lines reached “cruising speed”.
The expansion would bring Lonza’s Swiss capacity to 600 million doses. Lonza also makes Moderna ingredients at a separate U.S. plant.
Swiss state broadcaster RTS reported this week that employees from Swiss food company Nestle are being recruited for temporary Lonza assignments to help with vaccine production.
Nestle did not comment directly about Lonza, saying “we continue to look for ways we can play a role” in efforts to boost global vaccine deliveries.