(Adds details, comment from interim CEO)
ZURICH, May 20 (Reuters) - U.S. drugmaker Moderna must decide which country would be first to get an experimental vaccine it is developing for COVID-19, should the treatment prove successful, Lonza Chairman Albert Baehny told CNBC on Wednesday.
Contract drug manufacturer Lonza of Switzerland, which has a 10-year deal with Moderna to make up to a billion doses annually, is expanding its U.S. production capacity to be able to supply large volumes by December, Baehny told the business network.
The talk of boosting production comes amid intensifying debate over who should get a successful vaccine candidate first, given mass supplies will take time to produce, manufacturing capacity is limited, and the United States has chipped in $500 million in funding for Moderna's project.
Baehny told CNBC that Lonza is making the active pharmaceutical ingredients for the vaccine hopeful and providing manufacturing know-how, but does not control trials or intellectual property.
"The decision of where the vaccine will be distributed and sold will be the responsibility of Moderna," Baehny told CNBC. "Of course, we will try to have a good dialogue with Moderna on this topic... because governments are calling me" seeking to secure supplies.
A Moderna spokeswoman in the United States did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Manufacturing of Moderna's vaccine, which showed promising early results in a small safety trial earlier this week, would take place on production lines Lonza is installing in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, as well as Visp, Switzerland.
Baehny said that more capacity was also possible including at the Basel-based company's facilities in Singapore, but that Lonza would need to raise additional funding to build up capacity to the 1-billion-annual-dose production goal.
Moderna's project is one of dozens seeking to produce a COVID-19 preventative treatment.
The CEO of French drugmaker Sanofi said last week it was vital that any coronavirus vaccine reach all parts of the world, having earlier angered the French government by saying that doses manufactured in the United States could go to U.S. patients first. (Reporting by John Miller; editing by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi, Kirsten Donovan)