By John Miller
ZURICH (Reuters) -Three Lonza manufacturing lines for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine are due to reach production capacity by late June, Chief Executive Pierre-Alain Ruffieux said on Thursday, though he still needs about 100 more workers to staff them.
Ruffieux’s June projection for the existing lines in Visp, Switzerland, came as Lonza announced a new pact with Moderna to double its Swiss vaccine ingredient production by adding three new lines by 2022.
Concerns over Lonza’s ability to deliver on schedule emerged last week, when Moderna flagged second-quarter shortfalls in shots for Britain and Canada, citing an uneven production ramp-up, just as COVID-19 variants rage and infections hit record peaks.
Ruffieux, with Lonza Chairman Albert Baehny, said they were working with the Swiss government to streamline work permits for foreign specialists while contacting Swiss companies who could loan specialists to step in temporarily.
“Whatever we do, we need to do more,” Ruffieux said in an interview. “With our partner Moderna, we just try to continually optimise these kinds of processes.”
Moderna now aims to produce at least 800 million mRNA shots this year and up to 3 billion in 2022. Lonza also makes Moderna ingredients at a New Hampshire plant for U.S. delivery.
Original Lonza estimates for staffing the Swiss production lines called for 70 employees each. As the facilities took shape, Ruffieux said, he realised more were necessary.
“By putting more people in some places, you can further accelerate your production and make it more efficient,” he said, adding that experience gained now will help to boost efficiency of new Moderna production lines due in 2022.
Asked about concerns that Lonza could miss quarterly delivery targets, Baehny described such comments as “speculation”.
“We are just at the beginning of the second quarter,” he said. “We’ll do everything we can to produce as much as we can.”
Dan Staner, Moderna’s European head, separately told Swiss state radio that the new pact with Lonza to double Swiss production was a vote of confidence.
“It demonstrates that we think we have taken the right decision by coming to produce in Switzerland and, above all, to link up with Lonza,” Staner said.
Lonza did not give a value for new Moderna deal, but the production lines it built last year each cost 70 million Swiss francs ($77 million).
($1 = 0.9093 Swiss francs)
(Reporting by John Miller and Stephanie NebehayEditing by David Clarke and David Goodman)