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Nestle staff sought to help Lonza production
for Moderna vaccine: Swiss TV

by the editor with Reuters - 28 April 2021

Moderna vaccine - Reuters

Drugmaker Lonza Group, under pressure to find workers to help speed production of Moderna Inc's COVID-19 vaccine, is recruiting temporary employees from food giant Nestle to staff Swiss plants making ingredients for the shot, state broadcaster RTS said on Tuesday, citing sources.

Moderna last week blamed projected second-quarter delays in shipments of its vaccine to countries including Britain and Canada on production bottlenecks. Switzerland's Lonza is the key supplier of ingredients needed to produce the messenger RNA vaccine.

Lonza has said each of its recently built production lines -- one is operational, two others are due to begin operating in coming weeks -- cost around 70 million Swiss francs ($76 million), with a staff of 60 to 70 employees dedicated to each line.

Lonza, which has declined to comment on any delays, previously said three new production lines slated to produce Moderna vaccine in Visp, Switzerland, could take months to reach "cruising speed".

Now, the French-language Swiss broadcaster said Nestle employees have been enlisted after the intervention of the Swiss government to help fill vacancies.

A call for "volunteers" via Bern came a week ago to Nestle research center employees in western Switzerland who had until Monday to step forward for a three-month Lonza mission, according to the broadcaster.

Moderna Chief Executive Stephane Bancel said last week that he was confident Lonza would fill staffing gaps soon.

Last year, Lonza Chairman Albert Baehny cited finding suitable workers - each of the new production lines requires 60-70 employees - as a challenge that could slow the project. A Nestle spokesman provided no specifics, RTS reported, saying only that it wanted to play "an active role in global vaccination". Lonza did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. Nestle also did not comment.

Lonza, which also supplies Moderna's U.S.-bound COVID-19 vaccine from facilities in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, makes ingredients in Visp before they are trucked to Spain to be bottled by Spanish contract drug manufacturer Rovi.

In April 2021, Rovi's role was expanded beyond bottling, to include a vaccine ingredients production line due to be operational this year. This investment consists of the installation of a new line supporting production phases of the active substance of the mRNA vaccine, which are prior and additional to the compounding and fill-finish of the vaccine. This line will have a production capacity equivalent to more than 100 million doses per year and is expected to begin to supply markets outside the United States in the third quarter of 2021. With this addition, ROVI will extend the activities it performs in the manufacturing process of the COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna: it will take part in the manufacture of the active substance, as well as the compounding, filling and final packaging before the vaccine is distributed for administration to patient.

Moderna aims to make at least 700 million doses in 2021.

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