There are currently many different pharmaceutical companies that focus on COVID-19, that it is possible people have lost the overview. One company that has been in the spotlight for quite some time is Moderna ($MRNA). The company, in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and researchers in the COVE study, is looking for an appropriate way to test the Moderna candidate vaccine to prevent disease after exposure to COVID-19. The global health crisis has now almost lasted a year and there is still no suitable vaccine on the market that prepares the immune system in such a way that the virus is destroyed before humanity becomes ill.
mRNA-1273: messenger ribonucleic acid
Moderna has a high potential vaccine – called mRNA-1273 – that should help the immune system make sufficiently effective antibodies to the COVID-19 virus. What makes the mRNA-1273 special is that it does not come from an attenuated or inactive virus, it is made from messenger ribonucleic acid – this is what the genetic code mRNA stands for. It tells cells in the body how to make proteins that produce antibodies that will fight the virus. This means that the vaccine can’t cause infection or disease – this has been proven in all administrations since March 2020.
Now that we know what is being searched for, the question probably arises why no suitable vaccine has yet been found, while so many pharmaceutical companies are working on this day and night. Since January 11, 2020, the Chinese authorities have shared the genetic sequence of the COVID-19, after which several laboratories immediately took action in the hope of finding a vaccine as soon as possible. NIH and FDA were consulted for the various clinical studies, and in March 2020, it was revealed that a commercially available vaccine might take another 12 to 18 months, with the condition that a vaccine might be approved by the fall of 2020 for COVID-19 emergencies in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Authorities don’t want a vaccine to appear on the market, until it is certain it does not contain dangerous side effects.
A group of events worth mentioning
What followed was an accumulation of events worth mentioning. On April 16, 2020, Moderna received an estimated $ 483 million from BARDA to accelerate mRNA-1273 development. On May 1, 2020, Moderna and Lonza announced that they had agreed on a global strategic partnership with the primary goal of enabling the production of up to 1 billion doses of mRNA-1273 per year. Successful test results followed from the laboratory, which was succeeded by a new collaboration, this time between Moderna and Catalent for the fill-finish fabrication of mRNA-1273. On July 26, 2020, BARDA extends the agreement to support a larger Phase 3 program for mRNA-1273. And that’s where we are now, the phase 3-study of mRNA-1273 being conducted in collaboration with the NIH and BARDA is still proceeding. In addition, earlier this month a supply agreement with the US government was announced for the first 100 million doses of mRNA vaccine and an option was granted to the US government to purchase an additional 400 million doses.
These are great developments within a short period of time and Moderna has quickly managed to start a phase 3-study. But there are other reasons worth mentioning why Moderna and mRNA-1273 are interesting in the fight against COVID-19 – apart from trying to produce a vaccine that uses messenger ribonucleic acid.
I: it offers Moderna the ability to mimic the process of natural viral infections and enhance the immune response.
II: multiplexing of mRNA provides more attractive product profiles. Several mRNAs encoding multiple viral proteins can be included in a single vaccine, allowing for the production of complex multimeric antigens. With traditional technologies this is much more complicated and time consuming to achieve.
III: the capital efficiency and speed of shared production processes and infrastructure. Moderna’s experience with its previous mRNA vaccines means a single facility is sufficient to conduct research, where traditional vaccines require more specific manufacturing processes, facilities and operators.
CureVac vs Moderna
An interesting fact is that Moderna is certainly not the pioneer with mRNA. The German biotech CureVac ($5CV) was the first company in the world to successfully use mRNA for therapeutic purposes and had already conducted studies with mRNA 10 years before Moderna was founded. However, the German company did not immediately see the molecule’s therapeutic potential. The company is currently in a phase 1-study, and seems to be too far behind to connect with the competition, despite the German government having allocated around $ 355 million dollars to CureVac for research into a COVID-19 vaccine. Anyone who reads reports from various analysts will conclude that the share is not a stock to deeply invest in at the moment.
Who are the current competitors?
Robinhood – the second largest investment platform for millennials – seems to prefer Moderna. In addition to companies such as Pfizer ($PFE), Gilead Sciences ($GILD), Sorrento Therapeutics ($SRNE), Inovio Pharmceuticals ($INO) and Novavax ($NVAX). Moderna’s stock has increased by no less than 256% in the past six months. The fact that the US government and other major investors have given financial injections for the development of the vaccine has certainly contributed to the rise of the share price. We have to wait for the start of the production phase to see how high it can really go.
Once the COVID-19 vaccine is available, then Moderna will be far from finished. It will remain committed to the fight against cancer, the production of prophylactic vaccines, systemic secreted and cell surface therapies, intratumoral immuno-oncology, localized regenerative therapies and systemic intracellular therapies. A success with a COVID-19 vaccine can contribute well to this.
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