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Posted on May 2, 2021
Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) announced today that it will present its 2021 Vision Award to biopharmaceutical pioneers Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca for their extraordinary efforts to develop multiple COVID-19 vaccines in less than a year.
The four companies, all with strong research and production ties to Massachusetts, took a vaccine development process that averages 10-15 years and compressed it to eight months as the SARS-CoV-2 virus killed millions of people and wreaked economic havoc around the globe. Several of the vaccines employed a long-theorized but yet to be realized vaccine technology that encoded messenger RNA (mRNA) with the information to produce the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.
The four vaccines now hold the promise of allowing people to resume something resembling normal life after the worst public-health pandemic in a century. In the process, they will almost certainly change the future of vaccine science.
The AIM Vision Award recognizes companies, organizations and individuals who have made unique contributions to the cause of economic opportunity in Massachusetts. The award reflects AIM’s mission to stand for jobs, economic prosperity, innovation and a government that acknowledges that the private sector has the unique responsibility to create the “common wealth” for the people of Massachusetts.
The largest employer association in Massachusetts will present the awards as part of its virtual annual meeting on May 14. The 90-minute meeting, entitled “The Road to Recovery: Rebuilding a Better Massachusetts for Everyone,” will also include live online gatherings and networking.
“The rapid development of COVID vaccines may be the greatest scientific achievement since the moon landing. AIM and its 3,300 member employers are proud to honor the skill, determination and round-the-clock work of the researchers who made this dream a reality,” said John Regan, President and Chief Executive Officer of AIM.
“COVID highlighted the unique blend of human capital, financial capital and innovation that drives the Massachusetts economy. We can all be proud to live in a commonwealth where some of the greatest the biotechnology, medical and manufacturing companies in the world played a major role in getting vaccines to hundreds of millions of people.”
Cambridge-based Moderna, founded in 2010, had already worked to build an mRNA technology platform it believed would accelerate drug discovery and early development. The company’s pipeline includes development candidates for mRNA-based vaccines and therapies spanning several therapeutic areas and has multiple clinical trials underway with other development candidates progressing toward the clinic.
Pfizer, which developed its version of the mRNA vaccine in partnership with BioNTech, is making that vaccine at its sprawling 70-acre research and manufacturing facility in Andover. The 170-year-old company employs more than 2,000 people in Massachusetts – in Andover and at a 240,000-square-foot research hub in Cambridge. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been granted a conditional marketing authorization, emergency use authorization or temporary authorization in a total of more than 60 countries.
The COVID-19 vaccine developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) uses a proprietary technology that was also used to develop and manufacture J&J’s European Commission-approved Ebola vaccine regimen and to construct its investigational Zika, RSV, and HIV vaccines. Clinical trials for the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine were conducted in partnership with another AIM member – Beth Israel Lahey Health.
Johnson & Johnson employs approximately 3,000 people across seven sites in Massachusetts. DePuy Synthes, the Orthopaedics Company of Johnson & Johnson, located in Raynham, designs and manufactures orthopaedic products and solutions that help heal and restore movement for millions of patients. J&J also operates an Innovation Center in Boston and multiple JLABS collaborations to support and incubate life-science innovation across the state.
AstraZeneca, the UK-based company that employs some 1,000 people at its research center in Waltham and a manufacturing facility in Westboro, developed a vaccine with the University of Oxford from a weakened version of a common cold virus (known as an adenovirus). It has been modified to look more like coronavirus – although it can’t cause illness. AstraZeneca operates in more than 100 countries and its innovative medicines are used by millions of patients worldwide. The company will seek Emergency Use Authorization for use in the United States from the US Food and Drug Administration.
The federal government invested some $18 billion into the development of COVID vaccines through the Operation Warp Speed, a public–private partnership initiated by the United States government to facilitate and accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics. Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca received research funding through the program.
The companies are now working to meet a surging demand for COVID vaccines both in the United States and globally. Almost 100 million Americans, or 30.4 percent of the population, were fully vaccinated as of Friday.