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Barry Cohen
Barry Cohen
Articles (208) 

Moderna CEO: It's All or Nothing

If Covid vaccine is successful, Bancel thinks company's R&D programs could rival size of Gilead, Amgen

September 20, 2020 | About:

The CEO of Covid-19 vaccine developer Moderna Inc. (NASDAQ:MRNA) could be getting a little ahead of himself. In an Endpoints interview a day before the company's research and development day, Stéphane Bancel suggested the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech could in the not-too-distant future have a research program rivaling pharma giants Gilead Sciences Inc. (NASDAQ:GILD) and Amgen Inc. (NASDAQ:AMGN).

"Assuming we launch 1273 (the company's Covid vaccine) … I think the next 12 months after that are going to be the biggest inflection point ever in Moderna history. Period," Bancel said. "We have 20 drugs in clinical development today. Could we, in 18 months, 24 months from now have 40? 50? I think it's possible."

Pretty heady stuff for a company that has done little since it was launched a decade ago. Certainly, until recently, its performance hadn't enthralled investors. The stock had languished since the company went public in December 2018, only vaulting to its current price of just under $70 on news of its Covid vaccine.

As expected, Bancel has high aspirations for Moderna, which has yet to turn a profit. And there are no guarantees it will. Even though the company's coronavirus vaccine is nearing phase 3 data and a possible green light from regulators, the landscape is littered with promising pharmaceutical products that failed to cross the finish line. Moreover, Moderna has been behind Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) on enrollment for their phase 3 trial, which has reached 30,000. Bancel has also not been willing to go out on a limb like Pifizer, which has set the highly optimistic goal of having a vaccine by October.


Bancel told Endpoints that the Covid vaccine could potentially generate revenues in the billions for Moderna in 2021, a cash hoard he termed "unheard of for a biotech company that just became commercial."

In its early days, Moderna expected to apply its mRNA technology to many different areas, but focused on infectious diseases because success there would be easiest to prove. Based on its promising results with its Covid vaccine, Moderna plans to start work on the flu, which is one of the world's least effective inoculations.

During the R&D day, the company also announced positive results from a phase 2 study of its vaccine for cytomegalovirus. This vaccine was the main product being developed by the company before the coronavirus came on the scene. Bancel has said previously a
CMV vaccine could represent $2 billion to $5 billion market because of the disease's
potentially damaging impact on children.

The CEO would like to apply the company's technology to cancer, but that seems to be a stretch at this point.

"I think cancer is a totally different problem," Pardi Norbert, an mRNA researcher at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine, told Endpoints. It's "a different type of immune response."

Moderna's grand plans could all come crashing down if its Covid-19 vaccine doesn't meet expectations. If that proves to be the case, the company will find itself further back than where it was a year ago, said the Endpoints article. It's an outcome Bancel seems well aware of.

"We have said this from day one: It cannot be a one drug company, It can be zero, if nothing works and we fail, or it will be a lot."

Disclosure: The author has a position in Pfizer, Amgen and Gilead.

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About the author:

Barry Cohen
Barry Cohen has nearly 40 years experience in communications and marketing, the majority in senior positions at large international health care companies, including Abbott Laboratories and Bayer Inc.

He has contributed to a number of financial websites, writing primarily about the stocks of health care companies.

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