Moderna Signs $1B Deal to Develop mRNA Drugs for China

Pictured: A Moderna office building/hapabapa/iStock

Pictured: A Moderna office building/hapabapa/iStock

Moderna has signed a memorandum of understanding and a land collaboration agreement with China to develop mRNA medicines for Chinese use-only with a total investment of $1 billion, according to multiple media reports.

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel arrived in Shanghai on Tuesday to attend a signing ceremony for the investment, according to Chinese media outlet Yicai.

“Any medicines produced under this agreement will be exclusively for the Chinese people ... and will not be exported,” a Moderna spokesperson told Reuters in an email.

The move is a first for the company and comes amid recent efforts by both Moderna and the Chinese government to make inroads. Moderna opened an office in Hong Kong in 2022. In April 2023, Bancel visited Shanghai and told local media that the company would be accelerating its investment in China, while looking for local research and development opportunities with Chinese partners.

By May, Moderna had set up a biotechnology unit in Shanghai. Moderna (China) Biotech was registered May 24 with $100 million in capital. A company spokesperson at the time said: “We are exploring opportunities to engage in the market and bring the power of Moderna's mRNA platform to the people of China.” Moderna also said that while it wanted to sell its vaccine in China, the government was insisting on only using Chinese-made vaccines.

China, meanwhile, has been indicating its own interest in working with foreign pharma companies. Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao said at a Wednesday industry roundtable that foreign drugmakers can expect “more development opportunities.” Among the 12 pharma companies in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting were representatives from AstraZeneca, Bayer, Merck, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi and Takeda.

Currently, Moderna’s only U.S. approved product is its mRNA vaccine. But demand has been falling sharply for COVID-19 vaccines. Discussions last year between Moderna and China to sell its vaccine in China fell apart after the company refused to reveal the core intellectual property behind its vaccine and to partner with a Chinese pharma company, according to reporting by the Financial Times. At the time, the company said it was still “eager” to sell the vaccine to China.

Meanwhile, Moderna has been making moves to diversify its income base. The company announced Wednesday that it made applications around the world for approval of its investigational mRNA vaccine to treat respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

The virus is the second-leading cause of death for infants under one year old, after malaria, but is even more serious in older adults, which is the group Moderna is targeting with its vaccine. Among adults over 65, the fatality rate for RSV is nearly six times higher than for infants under a year. The vaccine is also currently undergoing Phase I trials for use in pediatric populations.

The company also has Phase III trials for an influenza vaccine ongoing, as well as for a next-generation COVID-19 vaccine. In addition, Moderna has four influenza vaccines in its pipeline and five combination vaccine programs.

Connor Lynch is a freelance writer based in Ottawa, Canada. Reach him at lynchjourno@gmail.com.

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