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TOKYO, March 23 (Reuters) – Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) is sponsoring sumo flags in its first such promotion in Japan, as the U.S. company seeks to build on its newfound fame in COVID-19 vaccines and to fight the market share of compatriot Pfizer Inc (PFE.N).
The flags, known as kensho-hata, are held by banner bearers surrounding the sumo ring and have traditionally served as advertisements for everyday products such as vitamins, teas, juices and rice.
Moderna launched its banner on March 13 at the start of the national sport’s two-week spring tournament – a simple white design with the company name in large sumo-style red type.
“I think vaccines make us stronger and more sustainable as a society, and those two words are tied in my mind to sumo wrestlers,” Rami Suzuki, Moderna’s newly appointed representative director in Japan, told Reuters.
The promotion signals the company’s growth aspirations in Japan, which experienced Moderna through some 50 million doses of its mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine imported last year by local partner Takeda Pharmaceutical Co Ltd ( 4502.T).
These doses accounted for less than 20% of injections in Japan’s initial double-shot inoculation push, with the bulk being the Pfizer vaccine developed with Germany’s BioNTech SE (22UAy.DE). For recall, however, the numbers balance out, with Moderna accounting for around 42%.
Last week, the government said vaccines for the fourth doses would be split almost equally between the two suppliers. He plans to get 75 million doses from Pfizer and 70 million from Moderna.
For the fourth vaccine, which is under development and will be a combination of vaccines designed for the Delta and Omicron variants of the novel coronavirus, Moderna directly owns the rights in Japan, Suzuki said.
Takeda said it was in discussions with Moderna about distribution.
Moderna, founded in 2010 and based in Cambridge in the US state of Massachusetts, had no office in Japan until October, and Suzuki, who previously held positions at pharmaceutical companies Janssen and Eisai Co Ltd (4523. T), joined in November .
Going forward, the company plans to combine COVID-19 and flu vaccines in one go, with a possible market introduction in 2023, Suzuki said. Later, the combination vaccine could include a third respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine, she said.
The push from Japan comes as Moderna expands its presence in Asia with a plan to produce mRNA vaccines in Australia and set up four subsidiaries in Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong. Read more
It also has a vaccine production deal with South Korean drugmaker Samsung BioLogics Co Ltd (207940.KS).
Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Christopher Cushing
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