Moderna factory in France? The implantation project is still being discussed, points out Stéphane Bancel, director of the American laboratory of origin of one of the first matrix RNA vaccines against Covid-19, during an interview with AFP.
“There are regular discussions at the highest state level, including a few days ago. I know that there is a strong desire on the part of the president of the republic,” says the fifty-year-old. “As always, we must agree (…), we have not reached the goal yet, but I think we are making progress. We keep talking: this is a good sign,” he smiles.
It would be the homecoming of a Marseille-born biotech boss who emigrated to the United States years ago after working in Lyon for French diagnostics giant BioMérieux.
The theme of institution in France is not insignificant. France, despite its scientific history, did not develop a Covid-19 vaccine until June 2022, when biotech company Valneva received a green light from the European Union. French giant Sanofi’s serum did not receive European approval until Thursday, almost two years after Moderna’s serum and the Pfizer-BioNTech tandem.
Apart from the specific case in France, Moderna’s CEO considers it necessary to build factories in several regions of the world. He just laid the foundation stone for a production site in Canada. Others will appear in Australia, England and Kenya.
Because the pandemic has highlighted issues of unequal access to vaccines and treatments, with rich countries being served first.
Faced with this, Moderna has pledged not to object to its patents during the pandemic. However, the company recently filed a lawsuit against Pfizer-BioNTech for infringement of its patents.
Although he acknowledges that some of the great scientists in the history of medicine have refused to file patents, “these were researchers from the academic world. This is not possible for a private company. Moderna had to raise three billion dollars to build a platform that was ready when the virus hit,” he said.
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The trained engineer believes that the vaccine disparity has a different origin than patents, the desire of the great powers to keep vaccines.
“The Biden administration has banned us from exporting our vaccines in the first half of 2021, including to Canada.” Therefore, “we want to have sites in several regions of the world so that what happened during the pandemic does not happen again, because I am convinced that we will have other pandemics.”
Moderna says that with its plant in Kenya, it wants to offer vaccines at cost, as well as molecules tailored to the enormous needs of the African continent. “There are dozens of respiratory viruses, tropical viruses that no major pharmaceutical company deals with,” explains Stephan Bansel. “I think the industry has looked the other way for years for purely economic reasons.
Today, the biotech company with 4,000 employees develops almost 50 programs and has a cash position of $17 billion.
Therefore, the expected drop in sales of Covid vaccines does not prevent his boss from sleeping, he assures. Especially since he started storming another mountain, fighting cancer with messenger RNA, in immuno-oncology.
In particular, Moderna, together with the American MSD, is conducting clinical trials against skin cancer. The scientist hopes that the treatment of cancer with RNA “will be an extraordinary leap.” The first results are expected by the end of the year.