A year ago, Moderna Inc. was an unprofitable company with no marketed products and a promising but unproven technology. None of its experimental drugs and vaccines had ever completed a large-scale trial. Experts were divided on how well the mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccine it was about to enter in a Phase III trial would stack up against older, more established vaccine technologies.
This year, Moderna could deliver 1 billion doses of its Covid shot and bring in $19 billion in revenue. It’s become the rare biotech to hit the big time without being gobbled up by or splitting profits with a larger, more established company. Its market value—which hit $100 billion for the first time on July 14th—exceeds that of stalwarts such as Bayer AG, the German inventor of aspirin, and biotech peers such as Biogen Inc., founded three decades prior.
The speed with which Moderna and its primary mRNA competitor, a partnership between Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, devised their shots has made a significant contribution to the fight to end the pandemic. With strong efficacy, steady supply, and no show-stopping safety scares (officials are carefully monitoring rare heart inflammation cases in teenagers and young adults), mRNA shots have become the vaccines of choice, at least in countries that can get them.
But for Moderna Chief Executive Officer Stéphane Bancel, the Covid vaccine is just the beginning. He’s long-promised that if mRNA works, it will lead to a giant new industry capable of treating everything from heart disease to cancer to rare genetic conditions. Moderna has drugs in trials for all three of these categories, and Bancel says his company can also become a dominant vaccine maker, developing shots for emerging viruses such as Nipah and Zika, as well as better-known, hard-to-target pathogens such as HIV.
In the past 40 years, more than 50 new human viruses have been discovered. Only three have authorized vaccines. Bancel views that as an opportunity. “We are going to disrupt the vaccine market,” he says during a late May interview at Moderna’s Cambridge, Mass., headquarters, which fills a 10-story building north of the MIT campus. The Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG occupies labs in an adjacent building, and Pfizer and Merck & Co. have offices a few blocks away.
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