“Advanced discussions” have indeed been announced with the European Commission, but no firm commitment has been signed since. In the meantime, Moderna has signed with Canada, Japan, Israel, Qatar, the United Kingdom… Not to mention the 100 million doses promised in early August in the United States.
The boss of the American biotechnology company Moderna warned Europeans on Tuesday that the extension of negotiations to buy doses of his Covid-19 vaccine risked slowing deliveries, other countries being a priority because they have signed for months .
“We have discussions, but we have no contract,” Stéphane Bancel told AFP from Cambridge, Massachusetts, where this 48-year-old Frenchman, formerly of the bioMérieux laboratory, has been running Moderna, a small company since 2011. holding one of the most promising vaccines of the pandemic.
The company, founded in 2010, announced on Monday that its Covid-19 vaccine project had shown high efficacy in clinical trials of nearly 95%, comparable to what US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer allied with the German company BioNTech announced last week. The two are expected to seek marketing authorizations from U.S., European and other authorities in the coming weeks.
“Advanced discussions” were indeed announced with the European Commission on August 24 for the purchase of 80 million doses of the vaccine, but no firm commitment has been signed since. In the meantime, Moderna has signed with Canada, Japan, Israel, Qatar, the United Kingdom… Not to mention the 100 million doses promised in early August in the United States.
“It’s because there are lots of administrative things, files, stuff, alignments between countries and it’s just complicated to manage when you are 27 compared to when you are alone”, says Stéphane Bancel. . He compares it to Canada: between the first discussions with Moderna’s doctors and the signing of the contract, “it took two weeks”.
The consequence: “It is clear that having fallen behind will not limit the total quantity, it will slow down delivery”, he said. For all countries outside the United States, production will be done in Switzerland, in the factories of the Lonza group, and bottling in Madrid, at the Rovi group.
If ever the vaccine was authorized by the European Medicines Agency before the end of the year, but no contract had yet been signed, “the allocations for the first deliveries would not include Europe. So, it would go to Switzerland, it would go a little bit to Japan, Israel, Canada, so to the countries that ordered it. But those who have not ordered, I will not send them products ”.
“The longer they wait, the more it will be shifted in time,” insists Stéphane Bancel. According to him, the discussions do not block the price, but he refuses to say more publicly.
The European Commission, which has also signed with Pfizer and other manufacturers, insisted on Tuesday on the complexity of the negotiations. ” Are we going to make contracts because, all of a sudden, there are beautiful press articles on the status of a vaccine? This is not the case, ”said spokesperson Stefan de Keersmaecker.
Stéphane Bancel compares European procrastination to American anticipation. From March 2, he and the bosses of major laboratories were in the White House around Donald Trump.
The United States granted half a billion dollars to Moderna in April, to finance clinical trials. In total, the biotech received $ 2.5 billion in US public money, under the aegis of Operation Warp Speed, officially launched on May 15.
“Operation Warp Speed was one of the most effective things,” said the boss.
“We started talking to several European countries in May. We got no help paying for any clinical studies. Everything was taken by the American government and luckily they did, otherwise we could not have developed the vaccine at these speeds, as you know we are a company that has never made a euro profit, and the clinical study cost $ 1 billion, ”he continues.
As a result, the first Americans will undoubtedly be vaccinated before the New Year: “We already have several million doses in store” in the United States, confirms Stéphane Bancel.
Ten million doses should be in stock before the end of November, and “we will have 20 million doses by the end of the year”.
These 20 million doses will be exclusively intended for the United States. Moderna has been preparing the supply chain with the government for months to be ready as soon as the U.S. Medicines Agency (FDA) clears the vaccine, a decision expected in December.
The goal, he says, is that upon the green light from the FDA, Moderna can “load the trucks and go.”