US drugmaker Moderna has signed a deal to make mRNA medicines in China as part of its first major investment in the country, despite escalating trade and political tension between Washington and Beijing.
The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company signed a memorandum of understanding and a related land collaboration agreement on Wednesday, according to a statement sent to CNN.
“Any medicines produced under this agreement will be exclusively for the Chinese people — who face many of the same health challenges that affect other communities around the world — and will not be exported,” it said.
The official Xinhua news agency reported that Moderna
(MRNA) plans to set up its mRNA pipelines in Shanghai’s Minhang District, adding the pharmaceutical firm will build a production plant.
Earlier, the state-owned financial publication Yicai had reported, citing unnamed sources, that the firm was planning on investing around $1 billion in its China operation.
The deal comes as US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen arrives in Beijing as part of ongoing efforts by the Biden administration to deepen communication between the US and China after a particularly difficult time in bilateral relations.
Moderna was founded in 2010 to focus on mRNA medicine development.
The company currently only markets its mRNA vaccines for Covid-19, but has a number of vaccines and therapeutics in its pipeline.
Those focus on addressing infectious diseases, immuno-oncology, rare diseases, cardiovascular diseases and autoimmune diseases, according to the company.
Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine, which received emergency authorization from US regulators in 2020 and full approval in 2022, has not been approved in China.
For most of the pandemic, China relied on more traditional platforms for its homegrown Covid-19 vaccines.
It approved its first mRNA vaccine for the virus in March. That product was developed by CSPC Pharmaceutical Group, based in the northern Chinese city of Shijiazhuang.
The country has not yet approved a foreign-made mRNA product.
Scientists have hailed the potential for vaccines and therapeutics using mRNA technology to transform medicine across a range of targets from cancer to immune disorders, as well as infectious diseases.
The technology works by delivering instructions to the body to produce a specific protein. For vaccines for infectious diseases, this protein can then trigger a protective immune response.
The use of mRNA as a platform for vaccine delivery took a substantial leap forward due to the Covid-19 pandemic, when mRNA vaccines to protect against the coronavirus were among the first to be approved by regulators worldwide — also marking the first time a mRNA vaccine was brought to market.
Other major US-headquartered pharmaceutical companies have longstanding ties with China.
(PFE) has operated in the country for more than three decades and invested more than $1.5 billion, according to the company.
Johnson and Johnson founded its first joint venture in China in 1985 and its businesses employ some 10,000 people in the country, including including its consumer and personal care arm, one of its China-based companies has said.