Lonza sees no delays for COVID-19 vaccine project, citing Trump backing

By John Miller

ZURICH (Reuters) – Swiss drugmaker Lonza sees no delays for its project to make Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate and has “strong support” from U.S. President Donald Trump to get the necessary manufacturing equipment, its chairman said.

Chairman Albert Baehny had earlier raised concerns that hiring qualified staff and finding gear like bioreactors on short notice could snarl aggressive goals to begin commercial manufacturing of vaccine ingredients for Moderna.

Lonza is readying production of smaller batches this month for Moderna’s mRNA vaccine trials in 30,000 people.

Baehny told reporters he remains confident he will find workers and the equipment he needs to complete commercial manufacturing facilities this year in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and early next year in Visp, Switzerland.

“We are doing very well having access to the people, we can build up the teams in Portsmouth and in Visp to manufacture in the future these drug substances,” he said.

“There are basically no major issues in equipment, it’s a bit more complicated than the people, but I don’t think we’ll be facing delays because of delays in equipment delivery, as we see it today,” he said. “We have strong support from the Trump administration to have access to the equipment, as well.”

Baehny made the comments as Lonza reported a rise in first-half sales and profit and unveiled plans to begin selling its speciality ingredients unit in the second half of 2020.

Lonza is exiting chemicals to focus on its faster-growing drugs business that has a 10-year deal with Moderna to make ingredients for its drugs, including the vaccine candidate.

First-half profit rose 22% to 478 million Swiss francs ($517 million) on increasing demand from biotech customers. Sales rose 3.3% to 3.1 billion francs, matching consensus estimates.

(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by John Revill, Stephen Coates and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)