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Biopharma CMO

Moderna deal shows Korea’s prowess as global hub for biopharma CMO

By Dec 30, 2020 (Gmt+09:00)

Moderna deal shows Korea’s prowess as global hub for biopharma CMO

South Korea is emerging as a global hub for the contract manufacturing of biopharmaceuticals following its latest deal to procure COVID-19 vaccines from US biotechnology firm Moderna Inc.

While the US biotech player pioneering messenger RNA (mRNA) therapeutics and vaccines confirmed on Tuesday that it is in talks to supply 40 million or more doses of its vaccine to Korea, it also expressed hope to use Korean companies’ facilities to manufacture its products.

Korea’s presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae announced on Dec. 29 that both sides signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly develop vaccine candidates to fight future pandemics and explore opportunities to consign vaccine production to Korean firms.

During a videoconference with President Moon Jae-in, Moderna Chief Executive Stephane Bancel said he is aware of Korean companies’ strong manufacturing capabilities and that he expects to build mass production capacity through the partnership.

Analysts say Moderna’s offer raises the possibility of Korean biopharmaceutical companies emerging as a global base to manufacture products under a scheme known as a contract manufacturing organization (CMO).

“Moderna’s offer suggests that it wants to use Korea as one of its key global CMO bases,” said a bio analyst at Macquarie Investment Management Korea Co.

Hanmi Pharmaceutical Co.
Hanmi Pharmaceutical Co.

Like many other bio startups, Moderna does not have its own production facilities and focuses only on the research and development of vaccines and biopharmaceutical products.

Korea is already home to the world’s No. 1 CMO, Samsung Biologics Co., which makes a COVID-19 medicine for Eli Lilly & Co., an American pharmaceutical firm.

In May, Moderna entered a 10-year agreement with Lonza Group AG, a Swiss biotech company, for large-scale manufacture of its vaccine products. Under the deal, Moderna will use Lonza’s facilities in the US and Switzerland to produce mRNA vaccines.

Moderna’s mRNA vaccine is a new type of vaccine technology. When used in a vaccine, mRNA is engineered and encoded to activate the body’s immune system to fight the coronavirus. In contrast, traditional vaccines, like those for measles and flu, insert a weakened or inactivated germ into the body to trigger an immune response.

Given the Moderna CEO’s wish to utilize Korean biopharmaceutical firms’ production facilities, Korea stands a good chance of becoming a manufacturing and distribution hub for the US company in Asia, according to industry officials.


GC Pharma Corp.
GC Pharma Corp.

Analysts say Hanmi Pharmaceutical Co. and GC Pharma Corp. will likely serve as Moderna’s manufacturing bases if the US biotech player decides to consign CMO orders to Korean firms.

Hanmi Pharmaceutical said that with technology transfer, it is capable of producing Moderna vaccines at its second bio plant in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province.

A Hanmi official said the company is already in talks with a few global vaccine producers for consignment production.

GC Pharma has been named to make 500 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a global foundation established in 2017 to finance independent research projects to develop vaccines for emerging infectious diseases. Moderna is a CEPI member.


Under the latest agreement with Moderna, the Korean government said the country will have secured enough COVID-19 vaccines for 56 million people. Korea has a population of about 51.6 million.

The country has already signed deals to import vaccines from Pfizer Inc., Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceuticals division Janssen, and AstraZeneca plc.

Korea is currently facing a virus spike as the country reported 1,050 more cases on Dec. 30, raising the total caseload to 59,773. The country also recorded 20 more fatalities from the deadly virus, raising the death toll to 879.

Write to Woo-Sub Kim, Young-Yeon Kang and Hyoung-Ho Kim at

In-Soo Nam edited this article.

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