Japanese biotech firm Takara Bio Inc. will start producing messenger RNA vaccines on a contract basis possibly from next January, its officials said Thursday, in a move likely to help cut the country's reliance on imports for COVID-19 vaccines.

Takara Bio is expected to launch in January a production base capable of manufacturing annually the equivalent of 12 million doses of Pfizer Inc.'s COVID-19 vaccine at its factory in Kusatsu in western Japan's Shiga Prefecture.

Photo taken Feb. 17, 2021, shows vials of COVID-19 vaccine developed by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer Inc. (Kyodo)

The lack of domestic mRNA vaccine supplies caused delays in Japan's COVID-19 vaccine rollout as it waited for the arrival of doses developed by Pfizer and Moderna Inc. of the United States.

At present, Tokyo completely depends on imports for its coronavirus vaccine supply.

"We'd like to contribute to the development of domestic infrastructure to ensure a stable supply of vaccines in preparation for the possible future spread of the virus," a Takara Bio spokesperson said.

The biotechnology firm previously won a contract to produce DNA vaccines, which are similar to mRNA vaccines, for Japanese biopharmaceutical startup Anges Inc. set up by an Osaka University professor.

A number of Japanese drugmakers including Anges, Daiichi Sankyo Co., Shionogi & Co. and KM Biologics Co. have begun clinical trials for their COVID-19 vaccines.

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