A final agreement has been signed off between the federal government, Victorian government and vaccine manufacturer Moderna to produce mRNA vaccines in Australia for the first time.
- The new plant will be able to produce 100 million doses each year
- The vaccines will be for COVID-19 and other diseases like the seasonal flu
- Prime Minister Scott Morrison says it is critical that mRNA vaccines can be produced in Australia
Construction on a new manufacturing plant to be built in Victoria is expected to begin by the end of the year.
The plant will have the capacity to produce up to 100 million vaccine doses each year, for COVID-19 and for other diseases like the seasonal flu.
The announcement comes only a few months after an in-principle agreement was signed between the parties last December.
Australia will be one of only a handful of locations manufacturing mRNA vaccines around the world, including the US and Europe, while there are plans for a massive new Moderna plant in Kenya.
Moderna has set up an Australian subsidiary, and the company recently announced significant plans to expand across the Asia-Pacific.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was critical that mRNA vaccines could be produced onshore.
“[It] provides for the future resilience of Australia, not just when it comes to pandemics, but many other areas in which we have to deliver vaccines,” he said.
“mRNA, before the pandemic began, was largely looked on as almost science fiction, and now it’s a science reality and a science reality in manufacturing in Australia.
“There are few countries in the world that’ve been able to get to this point through the course of the pandemic and certainly none in the southern hemisphere.”
Targeting COVID, the flu and more
It is hoped the new plant will produce its first Australian-made vaccines some time in 2024.
The precise location for the new plant will be determined between the Victorian government and Moderna.
Moderna has indicated it has much more in mind for the facility than just COVID-19 vaccines, with plans to develop a number of other respiratory treatments and vaccines.
One of the advantages of mRNA technology is it can be adapted relatively easily to target existing and new diseases.
Moderna’s general manager for Australia and New Zealand, Michael Azrak, said they hope to work with Australian researchers to bring different vaccines and treatments to market, describing the news as a “landmark” announcement.
“Yesterday’s it’s COVID, but tomorrow it’ll be influenza … and other respiratory viruses into the future,” he said.
“We’ve all seen the burden that respiratory disease can ravage on our economy and our loved ones.”
Mr Azrak also noted the research and development collaboration Moderna had committed to as part of the agreement.
“Australia is going to be a pioneer and frontier [research and development] community that’s going to drive that next wave of mRNA science,” he said.
“Today’s partnership is a 10-year agreement but Moderna talks in decades and we think and plan in decades.”
Two of the most likely early adaptations of the technology will target the seasonal flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).