Startups join CSL, Moderna in local mRNA vaccine manufacturing push

Home-grown biotech startups and small businesses have joined pharmaceutical giants like CSL in pitching to the federal government for a role in making mRNA products in Australia.

The Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources had asked Australian biotechs to submit blueprints for how they would make products using technology like that used to make Pfizer and Moderna’s coronavirus vaccines onshore. Twelve companies responded with pitches by last Friday’s closing deadline.

Local coronavirus vaccine manufacturer CSL is one of the businesses which has made a submission to the department’s review process.

The $131 billion biotech has previously confirmed it was in early discussions with the government about how it could help with onshore manufacturing.

Industry minister Christian Porter said the government is continuing separate talks about manufacturing with COVID-19 vaccine maker Moderna, which registered details for an Australian subsidiary earlier this year.

Beyond biotech giants, local pharmaceutical firms have also put their hands up, outlining how they could help make mRNA medicines.

Queensland-based pharmaceuticals maker Luina Bio and research biotech Servatus both confirmed to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that they have made pitches to the government, as has ASX-listed Melbourne firm IDT Australia.

“Being a specialised drug manufacturing company, Luina Bio can manufacture mRNA and plans to establish facilities for the formulation and aseptic fill of the mRNA as part of this process,” Luina Bio’s business development manager Max Rossetto said.

Mr Rossetto said Luina had outlined a number of organisations in both Australia and overseas that could serve as production partners.

The federal government has not publicly shared how much funding is on offer to establish a local manufacturing facility. It asked companies to pitch a complete “end-to-end” plan for making products, which included full costings for their projects.

The businesses involved in the pitches have been tight-lipped about the details of their individual proposals, saying they are waiting for the department to review the pitches.

Mr Porter said an expert advisory group would help review the submissions to determine what supports “Australia’s best long term interests”.

“This is important, detailed work, which requires thorough consideration and will require thorough side-by-side competitive analysis which will be given the highest priority within my department,” he said.

However, there are no guarantees that any pitches will get funded from this process.

IDT chief executive David Sparling confirmed his business, which produces a range of drugs and medical cannabis products, had made a pitch to the government but said he couldn’t comment on the details.

IDT is also considering assisting with Victorian mRNA manufacturing, telling investors last month it was in discussions with Monash about its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

Lorna Meldrum, vice president pandemic readiness at CSL’s vaccine arm Seqirus, said CSL was actively considering mRNA manufacturing options and was keen to be part of the conversation about local manufacturing.

She warned that the process would be a lengthy one, even for a company of CSL’s size.

“Capacity like this can’t be set up overnight. It takes time and investment and CSL’s track record in pandemic preparedness and vaccine manufacturing puts us in good stead to be part of the future in Australia.”


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