Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA) Char Noubar Afeyan has explained how his combination of science with business acumen led to the creation of a vaccine to fight COVID. He explained that in early 2020 as COVID-19 was spreading across China, he received a call from his CEO informing him that public health officials had asked if the company’s experimental vaccine delivery tech could be used to fight the virus.
Moderna capitalized on the COVI-19 opportunity to become a $60B firm
Surprisingly the request came at an awkward period for the biotech firm that days earlier had presented to investors the expected project focusing on various drugs. At the time, Moderna didn’t have any approved products or revenues, with only $8.4 million for the quarter that ended March 31, 20220, and half of that a year before. Although diverting resources to develop a vaccine for a virus yet to be a global threat was risky, the prospect still intrigued CEO Stephane Bancel and Afeyan, and they agreed to join the race to create a vaccine.
Afeyan explained that they didn’t know COVID-19 would turn out to be a big threat, but they knew the mRNA technology was exclusively designed for rapid execution. Interestingly the pivot to fight COVID-19 paid off, and within 11 months, Moderna had created and produced a vaccine called Spikevax. Spikevax saved many lives and helped economies emerge from lockdowns, with the US biotech firm turning into a $60 billion biopharma group.
mRNA technology was instrumental in vaccine development
Moderna’s success and efforts by Pfizer and BioNTech proved that messenger RNA (mRNA) could help deliver vaccines. Currently, the company is developing dozens of other vaccines targeting illnesses from cancer to HIV.
The breakthrough resulted in Afeyan scaling up Flagship Pioneering, which is a unique biotech incubator focusing on invention, funding, and creating its tech. Established over two decades ago, Flagship has been instrumental in the launch of almost 70 companies. For some investors, it is transforming the entrepreneurial process in the biotechnology sector by linking core research with investment and business expertise.