The site will give the country access to a portfolio of domestically manufactured mRNA vaccines against respiratory viruses, including COVID-19, seasonal influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and potential other vaccines.
Earlier this year, Moderna announced an agreement with the Canadian government to build a mRNA site in Canada; and says discussions with other governments about potential collaborations are under way. It has also announced plans to build a facility in Africa.
After false starts, Australia turns focus to mRNA vaccines
Australia’s initial COVID-19 vaccine campaign lagged behind other developed countries, with one of the factors being a lack of domestic manufacturing capacity after development of Australia’s homegrown vaccine from the University of Queensland (which would have been produced locally) was halted.
CSL manufactures most of the AstraZeneca doses distributed in the country from its facility in Melbourne: and while the company has committed to manufacture 50 million doses it appears unlikely the government will extend this contract further.
Meanwhile, doses from Pfizer and Moderna are all shipped in from abroad.
The prospect of setting up large-scale mRNA production capacity has been under discussion over the last year, but without any firm commitments to date.
Now, the framework of the agreement announced by Moderna and the Australian government is set to ‘build the foundation to support Australia with direct access to rapid pandemic response capabilities and provide access to Moderna’s vaccines in development for respiratory viruses’.
The site is expected to be fully operational by 2024, and is expected to create up to 500 jobs during construction and around 500 ongoing roles across the broader industry.
“I would like to thank the Australian and Victorian Governments for their collaboration and partnership,” said Stéphane Bancel, CEO, Moderna. “We are committed to global public health and while we are still responding to this pandemic, we also want to ensure we and society learn from it. As Moderna expands internationally, we are pleased to bring local mRNA manufacturing to Australia. We believe that this sustainable national business model will have global impact and implications.”
Victoria carves out mRNA status
As well as creating domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity, the site will also help the state of Victoria in its ambitions to carve out a new ‘mRNA ecosystem’ that simply does not yet exist in Australia.
“mRNA has not only created a new frontier for vaccine development but has also become a promising new weapon in the fight against a range of diseases,” says a statement from the Victorian government as it welcomes the plans for Moderna's facility.
“Victoria is already Australia’s leader in pharmaceutical and biological manufacturing, responsible for nearly 60% of Australia’s pharmaceutical exports – making it our highest value advanced manufactured export.”
Earlier this year, the Victorian government announced up to AUD $400m (US $285m) in funding for a new Australian Institute of Infectious Disease in Victoria to prepare against future pandemics.
Australia’s first mRNA COVID-19 vaccine candidate (and the country’s first mRNA drug product) has been developed by the University of Melbourne and partners, with clinical trials set to begin in the new year.
Nationwide, the Australian Government is investing AUD $25m from 2022-23 to promote mRNA development in the 2021 mRNA Clinical Trials Enabling Infrastructure Grant Opportunity. This funding will directly support Australian medical research and medical innovation projects that leverage and enhance emerging technologies, platforms, equipment and infrastructure to conduct clinical trials of mRNA-based vaccines and therapeutics.
This grant opportunity forms part of the Government’s Coronavirus Research Response, which is funded through the AUD $20bn Medical Research Future Fund.