Moderna, the US biotech company, is in late stage talks with the government about investing in UK research and manufacturing and collaborating with the NHS on clinical trials.
The Boston-based start-up — which shot to prominence with its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine — is close to agreeing a significant investment, according to people familiar with the matter.
If concluded, the deal would be a “key element” of the UK’s post-Brexit strategy to become a global hub for the life sciences, one of the people said.
Health secretary Sajid Javid last week met Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s chief executive, for talks in Boston, afterwards tweeting it had been “fantastic” to meet him and his team, adding: “The UK is ideally placed to become a life sciences superpower, and collaboration with world leading companies is crucial to this.”
The company is considering sites in the so-called ‘Golden Triangle’ of London, Oxford and Cambridge, to put it in prime position to collaborate on research into new vaccines and therapeutics with top scientists, one of the people said.
Moderna, one of the pioneers in mRNA technology, would hire people to run clinical trials with the NHS, as well as contribute to the UK’s preparedness for future pandemics by building a manufacturing facility that can be quickly adapted to target emerging pathogens.
Fantastic to meet with the team at @Moderna_tx, including Stéphane Bancel, in Boston.
The UK is ideally placed to become a life sciences superpower, and collaboration with world leading companies is crucial to this.
— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) February 10, 2022
Ministers are determined that Britain can be a post-Brexit hub for life sciences, although it accounts for only around 3 per cent of global pharma sales and no longer offers an automatic gateway to the far bigger EU market.
The UK ceased to be a member of the European Medicines Agency, the industry regulator, when it left the EU and pharmaceutical companies must licence their drugs separately for use in the country. This has led to concerns that patients in the UK could end up at the back of the queue for new drugs as companies may initially be reluctant to submit to all the bureaucracy of a separate approvals process for a relatively small market.
Yet ministers believe the NHS’s large patient database can lure global pharma companies by allowing them to carry out clinical trials more cheaply and quickly. They also argue that outside the EU regulatory system, the UK will be able to review applications more rapidly.
Last year, the UK regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, unveiled a scheme that promised fast approvals and support with manufacturing to companies that choose to develop innovative medicines in the UK.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Moderna had no approved medicines and only used its manufacturing facilities, just outside Boston, to produce doses for clinical trials. The company has since massively scaled up production, partly by working with contractors such as Lonza in Europe.
Now, it is creating a series of hubs around the world and has already signed deals with Australia and Canada for domestic production of mRNA vaccines. It is also planning a factory in Africa, which will be able to make up to 500m doses.
Moderna declined to comment. The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.