RIYADH: Biotechnology research and early detection of viruses could soon ramp up in the Middle East, with the US vaccine maker Moderna planning to expand its presence in the region over the next five years, revealed a senior company official.
In an interview with Arab News, Dan Staner, vice president and head of the Middle East, said that the COVID-19 pandemic and other health emergencies have shown that countries must respond to infectious disease threats with tailored preparedness plans.
“In the next five years, we want to explore the opportunity to have a direct presence in the region and support governments and public health authorities with pandemic preparedness,” Staner stressed.
This move comes as regions like the Middle East are known to have different and more widespread diseases compared to countries like the US, Canada and others in Europe, he described.
“We are interested in working with governments in the Middle East to facilitate early discovery efforts and clinical development of those specific diseases, to identify potential mRNA (messenger RNA) targets that can treat or mitigate the symptoms of those diseases and develop lead candidates,” the vice president underlined.
According to the US-based National Human Genome Research Institute, mRNA is a single-stranded ribonucleic acid involved in protein synthesis from a deoxyribonucleic acid template during transcription.
In recent years, the technology has gained significant attention in medicine, particularly in developing mRNA vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.
Currently, the firm is working with several governments to facilitate mRNA vaccine manufacturing competencies in their respective countries, providing a reliable supply of vaccines against respiratory viruses, Staner added.
He explained that this would help countries with the required capabilities to respond swiftly to emerging crises using domestically manufactured COVID-19 vaccines.
So far, the pharmaceutical firm has announced collaborations with Canada, Australia, the UK and Kenya, Staner disclosed.
Speaking on the firm’s performance in Saudi Arabia specifically, Staner clarified that Moderna’s mRNA technology platform has a significant opportunity to elevate human health in the Kingdom.
“In the Kingdom, mRNA technology has the potential to help protect the population against a wide variety of diseases across rare diseases, infectious diseases, immuno-oncology, cardiovascular diseases and autoimmune diseases,” he said.
Moreover, Staner affirmed that there is also room for significant partnerships, technology and knowledge sharing in the Saudi market, propelling mRNA vaccines for various diseases, including infectious disease prevention, added the Moderna executive.
“We know that Saudi Vision 2023 — in its ambition to diversify the Kingdom and create a knowledge-based economy — values partnerships between the public, private, nonprofit and international organizations to achieve its aspirations,” added Staner.
In 2021, Saudi Arabia’s Tabuk Pharmaceutical signed a contract with Moderna to sell and distribute its COVID-19 vaccine in the Kingdom. The scope of the deal included providing proper handling of the products for distribution to wholesalers, hospitals, clinics and others.
Meanwhile, in March 2022, Moderna rolled out a new program called mRNA Access which offers researchers worldwide use of the company’s mRNA technology to explore new vaccines against emerging or neglected infectious diseases.
The program aims to open Moderna’s preclinical manufacturing capabilities and research and development expertise to international partners.
The pharmaceutical firm and its partners are expected to investigate the possibility of mRNA to tackle some of the most severe public health threats worldwide.
“We are open to discussions with governments and institutions in the Middle East regarding our mRNA Access initiative,” said Staner.
“In the near-term, we are ready to support the Kingdom and the wider Middle East region with the rollout of updated COVID-19 vaccines to support vaccination campaigns in 2023 and beyond,” he concluded.