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DARPA gives Moderna $56M grant to build an 'espresso machine' for COVID-19 response

Moderna is getting additional aid from the US government to make its medicines in a mobile factory

As the coronavirus pandemic continues into its seventh month, Moderna Inc. has been at the forefront of it, testing a potential vaccine for the deadly virus.

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Now, the Cambridge, Mass.-based biotech is getting additional aid from the U.S. government to make its medicines in a mobile factory.

On Thursday, the company announced a grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of up to $56 million "to fund the development of a mobile manufacturing prototype" designed to speed up vaccine and therapeutic production.

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The grant, part of DARPA’s Nucleic Acids On Demand World-Wide (NOW) initiative, will allow Moderna to create a 6-foot by 6-foot by 6-foot container that would be capable of producing "hundreds of doses" in just a few short days. These containers could be placed anywhere in the world, making distribution more seamless.

The mobile unit has been likened to an espresso machine, given its compact size.

“We look forward to building on our experience rapidly designing and manufacturing vaccines as demonstrated with mRNA-1273, our COVID-19 vaccine currently in a Phase 3 study,” Stéphane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna, said in a statement. “This new award will allow us to explore the reach of our technology to potentially enable fast, in-field, automated manufacturing of vaccines and therapeutics for both military personnel and civilians around the world in a container that can be deployed rapidly."

Bancel, who has consistently said Moderna expects to be able to file for emergency use of its coronavirus vaccine as early as Nov. 25, added on an investor call the development would be crucial for the military.

The pandemic has hammered the U.S., resulting in more than 7 million contracting the virus and over 210,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Last month, Moderna announced its coronavirus vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273, “induced consistently high levels” of neutralizing antibody levels in 40 healthy participants across two age groups – 56-70 and 71 and over.

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Moderna has come under scrutiny for failing to enroll enough minorities in its vaccine trials. mRNA-1273 went into Phase 3 trial in July, Fox News previously reported.

Shares of Moderna have soared in 2020, rising more than 200%.

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FOX Business reporter R.N. White contributed to this story.