Interview with pharmaceutical experts – “Lonza would have guaranteed the federal government a fast delivery of vaccines”


For the former chief lawyer at Roche, Gottlieb Keller, it is clear that the federal government could have bought the vaccine directly from Lonza.

Technician at the Lonza factory in Visp, where the Moderna Covid vaccine is manufactured.
Technician at the Lonza factory in Visp, where the Moderna Covid vaccine is manufactured.

Photo: Alessandro della Valle (Keystone)

Mr Keller, was it absurd for Lonza President Albert Baehny to ask the federal government for investment aid for vaccine production?

By no means, it seems to have been a simple case: Lonza was looking for capital to quickly build up capacities for the production of the Covid vaccine in Visp and has turned to the state. Lonza itself has apparently invested, but was apparently looking for an additional investor. Switzerland had every reason to be interested in building capacities in Valais.

The crucial question here is whether Lonza could have assured the federal government of a quick vaccine delivery.

I have no doubt that Lonza could have guaranteed Switzerland that the vaccine would be delivered quickly. That could have been easily regulated by contract. On the one hand, Switzerland is awarding Lonza a certain sum as financial aid for the construction of the plant; On the other hand, Lonza and Moderna agree that a certain amount of vaccine will be delivered primarily to Switzerland. Without this possibility, Mr. Baehny would hardly have approached the federal government.

Shouldn’t there also have been a contract between the federal government and Moderna?

No, a direct contract between Switzerland and Moderna would not necessarily have been necessary for this. A triangular agreement would have sufficed: Bund-Lonza, Lonza-Moderna.

Federal Councilor Alain Berset claimed that Switzerland would not have had any support from Lonza because the vaccine would have remained 100 percent in the hands of Lonza.

No, Lonza could have sold the vaccine directly to Switzerland in consultation with Moderna – even at a contractually agreed price. Moderna is the patent holder, but as a producer, Lonza could still have contractually agreed with her that she could sell a certain number of cans.

Should the federal government have had its own production line just for Switzerland in Visp?

No, the production line would have been owned by Lonza. If Switzerland had invested, it could have been guaranteed a predetermined amount of vaccination doses.

But Lonza only makes the active ingredient and not the finished vaccine.

Lonza or the federal government would then have had to find other companies for the final production. A problem that can be solved.

Commercialization by a separate company is reported in the minutes of the meeting between the federal government and Lonza. What does that mean, would that have made the contract with the federal government more difficult?

That would have been a possible complication, but it struck me as solvable.

“Everyone I know in the pharmaceutical industry takes off their hats to the Lonza President and his offer to Switzerland at the time.”

Are such investment contracts for the production and marketing of drugs or vaccinations in the pharmaceutical industry even known?

Such contracts between two companies are certainly made in the pharmaceutical industry.

So for you Baehny’s proposal, which he apparently made to the federal government at the time, is definitely valid?

Everyone I know in the pharmaceutical industry takes off their hats to the Lonza President and his offer to Switzerland at the time. I can’t speak for Roche, but if Mr. Baehny had approached Roche, I would have considered the possible financing of the production capacity to be realistic and contractually agreed with him that he would primarily deliver a certain number of vaccination doses to Roche employees. This is a theoretical example, but from my point of view it would have been feasible.

Federal Councilor Alain Berset visited Lonza's production facility in Visp in January.  He did not invest in the facilities there.

Federal Councilor Alain Berset visited Lonza’s production facility in Visp in January. He did not invest in the facilities there.

Photo: Alessandro della Valle (Keystone)

And what do you think of the covenant that did not pursue this any further?

The fact that Switzerland did not understand this and did not respond to it can only be attributed to the fact that the risk seemed too high, because it was not clear at the time whether the vaccine candidate would be successful.

Would you have invested in the new mRNA vaccine back then?

Yes, even when it comes to venture capital, of course. The federal government must of course be more cautious than the pharmaceutical industry, which is constantly investing in risky research projects. But the federal government as well as Swiss companies paid a lot for the rescue of Swissair at the time. Roche alone had given 100 million francs. Support for vaccine production can also be seen as an infrastructure measure. In my opinion, the federal government should have taken part.

And now? In the meantime, the Covid Act has been changed and also provides for state investment aid, could the federal government still participate in the development of additional production lines in Visp?

I do not think so. Last spring it wasn’t clear that the Moderna vaccine was safe and effective. At that time, Moderna was still looking for production capacities and would have agreed to such a triangular agreement with the federal government and Lonza. A short time later that was probably no longer the case, and you could only place orders without a preferred delivery guarantee.

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Interview pharmaceutical experts Lonza guaranteed federal government fast delivery vaccines


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