Business

Moderna bets big with $110 million drug plant in Norwood

Moderna Therapeutics Inc. will build a $110 million plant in Norwood, it said Wednesday, a big bet that it can shepherd multiple products still in development through clinical trials and win regulatory approvals.

The 200,000-square-foot biomanufacturing facility, scheduled to open in early 2018, will employ more than 200 workers. About 100 will be transferred to Norwood from Moderna’s three sites in Cambridge’s Kendall Square, where the five-year-old company is based, while more than 100 others will be hired.

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Moderna, which has about 460 employees, is one of Cambridge’s most watched biotechs. It is a pioneer in so-called messenger RNA technology, which seeks to stimulate patients’ own cells to produce proteins and antibodies that fight disease.

The company has nearly $2 billion from investors and through partnerships with bigger drug makers such as Merck & Co., AstraZeneca PLC, and Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. The companies are teaming up with Moderna to jointly develop therapies and vaccines that could treat a wide range of illnesses.

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At the Norwood plant, Moderna will produce therapies for clinical trials and eventual commercial use, as well as raw materials and active ingredients used in biomanufacturing.

The company’s unique technology will require a manufacturing process different from that of traditional biotechnology, with smaller lots and more products, said chief executive Stephane Bancel. He said that contract manufacturers, which many biotech companies hire to produce their drugs, wouldn’t have the necessary expertise.

“We’re investing in our future,” Bancel said. “Based on the progress we’re making and given the number of products we have, there’s no way we can scale the company without building our own manufacturing plant.”

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Bancel said Moderna wanted to locate the production site in Massachusetts in close proximity to its drug discovery team. He said company executives looked at more than 25 potential sites in the state before settling on Norwood.

When the plant ramps up to peak production, it will be capable of producing 40 to 100 lots and dozens of therapies annually, he said.

Moderna is the latest of several biopharma companies that have in the past year unveiled plans for drug manufacturing in the Bay State.

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc., also based in Cambridge, is building a $200 million plant on 12 acres it purchased in the Southeastern Massachusetts town of Norton, a facility that may employ 220 workers within five years. Pfizer Inc., meanwhile, said it plans to expand a biomanufacturing plant in Andover.

Robert Weisman can be reached at robert.weisman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.
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