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Drugmaker to make coronavirus vaccine in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Moderna Therapeutics is teaming up with Lonza Biologics to mass produce the vaccine at its facility at Pease International Trade Port.

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — More than 100 companies are in a historic worldwide sprint to produce the first vaccine against the coronavirus, COVID-19.

One of the front runners is a New England based company, Moderna Therapeutics. The biotech company was the first candidate to begin human trials in March. Early results show the vaccine produced antibodies in a small group of volunteers.

This summer, batches of the first potential vaccine against the virus are expected to be manufactured in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

A vaccine timeline that has gone from years to just months in the rush to end the worst pandemic in a century.

It's an extraordinary race to develop a shot of immunity against a virus that has claimed more than 200,000 lives worldwide.

Swiss drugmaker, Lonza Biologics is hoping to make medical history, signing a ten year deal with Moderna Therapeutics to speed up production of a potential coronavirus vaccine. 

The Cambridge, Massachusetts biotech company is developing one of the leading candidates in the world. Just released early results from a phase 1 trial showed the vaccine prompted an immune response from a small group of patients. 

Lonza is now ramping up production capacity at its facility located at Pease. Mark Caswell, is Lonza's Head of Engineering and Facilities.

"We will be in small scale production by the end of June and then phase 2, large scale production of clinical batches which will be ready in October to December," Caswell said. 

With a 'fast track' designation from the Food and Drug Administration, Moderna will soon start phase 2 trials, involving 600 participants, of its experimental vaccine called mRNA 1273. Instead of injecting a live virus, the vaccine utilizes new technology -- 'synthetic messenger RNA' which tells human cells to produce a viral protein. This kicks starts the body's immune system to fight the virus.

"The pictures you've seen of the COVID virus, with the spikes coming off of it, It actually attacks those spikes, it bonds with them and eliminates them, therefore rendering the virus ineffective," said Caswell.

Phase 3 trials will begin sometime this summer. A process that typically takes place after years of animal testing, toxicology studies, lab experiments, and massive human trials. Caswell says the unprecedented pace is necessary to save lives.

"The impact this could have on humanity, to cure this or prevent this from happening in this unique way."

Moderna, as well as other companies in the race, are ramping up production ahead of approval, so it can quickly distribute doses if their candidate proves effective against the virus and safe for patients.

"Obviously, from our perspective, we want to see Moderna win that race."

Safety regulators say they will not sacrifice safety for speed. Caswell says Lonza could also hire more employees at its facility in Portsmouth as it scales up production. If the vaccine works and is approved it could be on the market by early or mid-next year.

Click here for Information about 'Operation Warp Speed' for a COVID-19 vaccine.

At NEWS CENTER Maine, we're focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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