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[Newsmaker] Samsung Biologics sets out preparation for Moderna vaccine production

President Moon Jae-in (center) poses for a photo with John Rim (left), CEO of Samsung Biologics, and Stephane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, at a hotel in Washington on Saturday. (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in (center) poses for a photo with John Rim (left), CEO of Samsung Biologics, and Stephane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, at a hotel in Washington on Saturday. (Yonhap)
Samsung Biologics is working to expedite preparations to start churning out “hundreds of millions” of doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine in early second half, the company said Sunday.

At its sterile drug manufacturing facility in Songdo, Incheon, which is one of the largest in the world, the South Korean pharmaceutical will handle the fill and finish process of the production of mRNA-1273, Moderna’s messenger-RNA based COVID-19 jab.

The firm signed a contract with Moderna on Saturday in the US to support filling in vials and packaging of the drug. The vaccine substance that goes into that vials will be provided by Moderna and its main production partner, the Swiss-heaquartered Lonza.

“Due to the high level of urgency in supplying the vaccine to the global population, we have set immediate action plans and schedule to make mRNA-1273 available for commercial distribution in the early second half of 2021,“ John Rim, chief of Samsung Biologics, said at the signing ceremony in the US.

The Samsung-Moderna deal was signed with South Korean President Moon Jae-in looking on. The president was in the US for a summit meeting with his counterpart Joe Biden, with a Korea-US vaccine partnership included in the agenda.

For Seoul officials, Samsung producing the Moderna vaccine is a welcome development as the country seeks to step up as the global factory of COVID-19 vaccines.

While Moon was in the US, another Korean firm – SK bioscience -- signed an agreement with Novavax to beef up production of its vaccines in South Korea. It is in addition to an existing manufacturing and licensing deal, intended to provide wider access to Novavax’s protein-based COVID-19 vaccine candidate in South Korea and globally, the US firm said.

SK bioscience is a contract manufacturer of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca.

As for Moderna, its vaccine mRNA-1273 has received the approval of the Korean Food and Drug Administration last week. It was the fourth jab that the Korean authority gave nod to – in addition to those developed by AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

As for the most advanced mRNA-type vaccines -– namely the Pfizer and Moderna jabs -- South Korea has limited access to the production process due mainly to lack of technology and experience, local industry officials said.

Samsung Biologics is the first company from South Korea to take part in the mRNA vaccine production, although it is only for the fill-and-finish process.

Moderna has partnered with GC Pharma, a major vaccine firm here, in the local authorization and distribution process. (From news reports)
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