• The Kenyan deal also appears hurried to move ahead of a WHO plan to start mRNA vaccine manufacturing in Kenya.
• The US drugmaker said it will build in Nairobi a state-of-the-art mRNA facility to produce up to 500 million doses of vaccines each year.
Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa were the frontrunners for a partnership with Moderna before Kenya ran away with the Sh57 billion deal.
Moderna had last year confirmed the three countries were high on its list.
"I can confirm that, yes,” Moderna chairman Noubar Afeyan told Reuters in October.
He added, "What matters to us most is the conditions under which we could operate. That is, the healthcare system ... the presence of trained folks who can actually at least help us on some of the clinical testing that needs to be done."
South Africa appears to have piqued Moderna when its scientists copied the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine and finally produced their version last month.
Moderna has patents in South Africa that give it the right to stop anyone from making or selling an mRNA vaccine there. However, the company says it will not enforce those patents in poor countries during the pandemic.
The Kenyan deal was signed quickly on Monday at State House in Nairobi and was witnessed by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
The US drugmaker said it will build in Nairobi a state-of-the-art mRNA facility to produce up to 500 million doses of vaccines each year.
The company said it anticipates investing up to $500 million (Sh57 billion) in the new facility, which will focus on drug substance manufacturing for Africa.
Moderna, a pioneer in the mRNA vaccines, has been facing growing pressure to share this type of know-how.
However, the company has resisted the pressure, saying it will lose because most of the costs involved in coming up with vaccines are incurred in research and development; the manufacturing bit tends to cost less.
The company’s latest annual report shows it owns approximately 220 granted foreign patents and pending foreign patent applications on its mRNA delivery systems.
The Kenyan deal also appears hurried to move ahead of a WHO plan to start mRNA vaccine manufacturing in Kenya and five other African countries.
WHO is pushing ahead with the initiative in Africa after the market leaders of the mRNA Covid vaccine, Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna, declined a WHO request to share their technology and expertise.
Like South Africa, Kenya and the other countries chosen by WHO (Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia) would probably copy the publicly available sequences of existing vaccines to make their own.
Vaccines of the mRNA type - such as Pfizer and Moderna – use new technology and only a small number of people understand how to make them.
On Monday, Health CS Mutahi Kagwe signed the MoU on behalf of the government, while Shannon Klinger, who is Moderna’s chief legal officer, signed on behalf of the company.
Moderna’s chief executive officer Stéphane Bancel said his company is committed to partnering to provide a health solution, adding that the investment the company is making in Kenya is crucial as it is part of the solution to ensuring global health equity.
Edited by A.N