Seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 200 Lonza employees in Visp VS produce the active ingredient for the corona vaccination of the US company Moderna. Lonza President Albert Baehny (68) is behind the important production deal to combat the pandemic. During this intensive time, he was also CEO. Although he has not had a double mandate since November, his everyday life has not become much quieter, he explains in the BLICK interview.
BLICK: Mr. Baehny, on May 1st you announced the cooperation with Moderna. When did you first become certain that Lonza could produce Moderna vaccines for millions of people?
Albert Baehny: That was a month later, in June 2020. That was how long it took us to exchange information about the process and equipment.
What influence would the adaptation of the vaccination for mutations have on the production of Lonza?
The speed of mRNA product development is arguably best positioned to accommodate new mutational needs. The production platforms exist, development is fast. It only lasts a few weeks, as has been shown in the case of the current vaccine.
Are you going to produce corona vaccines for other suppliers?
We have various requests. In addition, we are working with the US company Altimmune on the production of an intranasal vaccine candidate for Covid-19, where a single dose is sufficient.
What risks did you take with the Moderna cooperation?
Without knowing what the clinical results will look like, we entered into the partnership and invested in it. The speed of building new production lines was also an extreme challenge and a very high risk.
Is the production of the active ingredients for the corona vaccination even profitable?
Our goal with this project is not to maximize profitability, but to make a contribution to society. And so that we can get back to normal as soon as possible.
Lonza is looking for many skilled workers. 500 to 600 jobs are created in Visp every year. Is the supply of staff a bottleneck for expansion?
We have hired 1,000 new employees in Visp over the past three years. And it will continue in the same vein over the next few years. So far we have succeeded well in getting local, national and international specialists interested in Lonza. I am convinced that Lonza will continue to grow as planned, especially at the Visp site.
How do you rate the pool of skilled workers in Switzerland?
Switzerland has an excellent education system and excellently trained specialists who are motivated to develop and educate themselves. In terms of quality, we are certainly one of the top countries in the world.
Where do you see potential for improvement?
We have intensified our cooperation with universities and technical colleges so that together we can focus research, innovations and training and further education offers even more on the needs of the company and the economy.
Are there shortages or inflation in raw materials?
The re are no shortages of raw materials today, but future bottlenecks cannot be ruled out. We need 500 raw materials to produce the active ingredient. If a single one is missing, we can no longer produce.
Lonza invests heavily in the development of bioconjugates, biomolecule compounds, for new therapies. How do you rate their potential?
Bioconjugates are a growing class of biopharmaceuticals. The concept is based on exploiting the high sensitivity of a certain antibody to a selected tumor and increasing its cell-killing capacity by adding a highly cell-damaging agent. We expect high growth rates for Lonza. Here we are the undisputed market leader.
Health systems in Europe are finding it difficult to bear the rising costs of new therapies. Where do you see the solution?
The re is no blanket answer. Even if I understand the spontaneous, critical reaction to the high costs, one has to consider how these arise. The company’s risk costs are added to the total investments and tied costs. One should also consider the total cost of the alternative healing methods.
Will manufacturing costs fall one day?
The production processes for cell and gene therapies today are very complex, manual, unstable and hardly automated. In their development phase, these processes are comparable to the biologics produced by genetic engineering in living cells 15 years ago. The pharmaceutical industry and Lonza are actively working to make these processes more efficient so that costs can be reduced.
Are you afraid that Lonza’s ingredients will end up in therapies that only the rich can afford?
The pandemic has shown the importance of research in the pharmaceutical industry. For everyone – and not just for the wealthy. And that will remain so. The rapies and drugs also need a market. The wider the better.
You are a qualified biologist. Risk experts worked out pandemic scenarios as early as 2017. Do you expect further pandemics?
I am not an epidemiologist. Even so, we should learn from Covid-19 as more pandemics will follow that may be even more dangerous. In the meantime, we must try to get out of the current crisis as quickly as possible.
How do you rate Switzerland’s corona measures for everyday life at Lonza?
Switzerland’s corona measures have also influenced the way we work at Lonza. Our first priority is the health and safety of our employees. When implementing the protective measures, we went and are going in some cases beyond the requirements of the federal government. In this way we also ensure our business continuity. It is clear that next time our society must be able to suppress a new pandemic much faster.
He is not a collector of Ämtli, but the professional board of directors from French-speaking Switzerland presides over two important bodies of SMI companies. Albert Baehny (68) has been President of Lonza since 2018. From November 2019 to November 2020, the qualified biologist was also CEO of the pharmaceutical supplier, just in the hectic pandemic, and drove the operational business to new heights. Baehny became known as the long-standing head of the toilet manufacturer Geberit, which he has chaired since 2015. Baehny is married and has one daughter.
Moderna head of Europe: “Switzerland is in the top group”(02:14)
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Lonza President Albert Baehny expects pandemics Corona