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Moderna creates new launch preparation role, poaches Novartis exec as manufacturing lead

Moderna's employees brought home a hefty revenue increase for the company thanks to its COVID-19 vaccine. (Moderna)

As COVID-19 vaccines are slated to switch to the private market in the U.S., Moderna has updated its executive roster to support future growth.

Moderna created a new role responsible for “building out the company’s organization to support its growing pipeline.” Starting first thing 2023, Juan Andres, Moderna’s manufacturing head, will step into this new role under the title president of strategic partnerships and enterprise expansion, the company said Thursday.

Simultaneously, Moderna hired Novartis executive Jerh Collins, Ph.D., to fill Andres’ job as the new chief technical operations and quality officer.

Andres has “played a crucial role” in Moderna’s COVID vaccine production efforts, CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a statement Thursday announcing the new roles. Andres’ continued service with Moderna “will be critical as we prepare for several upcoming new product launches.”

The new appointments come as the U.S. government expects to bow out of the distribution of COVID vaccines, shifting to the private market starting next year. More multichannel marketing tools will be out for deployment after government-rationed free distribution ends, and that’s when Moderna will have to more directly face off the commercial powerhouse that is Pfizer.

Moderna is planning multiple vaccine launches between 2023 and 2026 in addition to the commercial COVID market, the company said during a recent investor event. These include a potential accelerated pathway to market in 2023 for its flu vaccine, mRNA-1010, a possible CMV vaccine launch, plus other combination respiratory vaccines.

Andres will focus on “the technical challenges of working in new areas” for those foreseeable launches, a Moderna spokesperson told Fierce Pharma.

Scaling of vaccine manufacturing gave Moderna its revenue boom last year. In 2019, Moderna was making fewer than 10,000 vaccine doses per month. By the end of 2021, the company had shipped about 800 million doses of its COVID shot worldwide, and at that time, it was targeting manufacturing capacity of more than 40 million doses per month in April, according to the company’s 2021 annual report.

Partnerships were a key part of Moderna’s COVID vaccine production efforts. The mRNA specialist has a 10-year strategic collaboration with Lonza on vaccine manufacturing. The Massachusetts biotech has also tapped Catalent for vial filling and packaging for its COVID shot and potentially other pipeline programs.

But manufacturing wasn’t all smooth sailing for Moderna during Andres’ tenure. Just a few weeks ago, a Catalent facility in Indiana that’s responsible for making Moderna’s COVID shot was hit with an FDA Form 483 with 12 observations. The regulatory clampdown appeared to have caused a supply hiccup in the rollout of Moderna’s booster shot.

A year ago, Japan suspended millions of doses of Moderna’s COVID shot after noticing foreign materials in some vials. The contamination was later traced to Spanish contractor Rovi Laboratories.

Now, Andres will leverage Moderna’s experience in striking manufacturing deals to form partnerships to support Moderna’s pipeline as they head toward commercialization.

On the R&D front, Moderna already has ongoing collaborations with AstraZeneca, Merck and Vertex in heart disease, cancer and cystic fibrosis.

Andres likely helped Moderna scout and secure his successor. He and Collins both worked in Novartis’ manufacturing department for years until Andres jumped to Moderna in 2017.

Collins joins with three decades of pharma manufacturing experience, including previously as head of global chemical operations and anti-infectives, according to Moderna. His most recent title since September 2020 is chief culture officer at Novartis.

“I’m confident that Jerh possesses the mindset and experience to expand our production footprint as we grow globally and internalize more of our production capabilities,” Bancel said in a statement.





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