As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to climb nationwide, contact tracing and face masks might not be enough to flatten the curve. We likely need a vaccine for the virus before we can go back to life as we once knew it, complete with crowded parties, concerts, nightclubs, and blockbuster movies.
The race for a potential vaccine is quickly shaping up to be one of the most competitive in modern history. The first company to develop a working vaccine will likely enjoy enormous political and economic power within the U.S. and abroad. Some of the largest healthcare and pharmaceutical companies in the world are currently toiling away at several versions of a vaccine, including Johnson & Johnson and Merck.
However, a relatively new player on the scene, a biotech company known as Moderna, appears to be first in line when it comes to producing a vaccine. Find out why the company is so optimistic.
How Does the Moderna Vaccine Work?
The company currently has one of the fastest vaccines in development. It was able to deliver a preliminary dose to the National Institute of Health in just 42 days. It works using what’s known as messenger RNA. This is a way of delivering genetic instructions to the cells in the body when making spike proteins. Once the cells receive and carry out these instructions, they will make a protective protein that should shield them from the virus when it enters the system.
The company plans on hosting a 30,000-person clinical trial in July, which will be the first in the U.S. It’s in the process of completing a 600-person mid-stage study, which should give us more information in terms of whether it works in humans. The vaccine has already proved effective in just eight people, so more research is needed. The company also released a study showing the vaccine working in mice, so clearly, the company still has a ways to go.
What is Moderna?
The company is just ten years old. It doesn’t have the same resources or manpower as a company like Johnson & Johnson, which currently nets around $74 billion in annual revenue.
Located in Massachusetts, the company has just 820 employees, compared to Johnson & Johnson’s 132,200. Trusting such a small, untested company with a vaccine for COVID-19 might sound a little risky, but the company has been considered a disruptor in the healthcare industry for years. CEO Stephane Bancel has developed a reputation for breaking down traditional ways of doing business and forging relationships with some unlikely allies in the industry.
Moderna specializes in developing vaccines; and this latest project is the tenth vaccine the company has brought to clinical trials. It previously made waves after developing a successful vaccine for CMV, or cytomegalovirus.
How Did It Become the Frontrunner for Developing a Vaccine?
CEO Bancel has built relationships with some of the most prominent health officials in the country, including those at the National Institute of Health. His company worked with the NIH on a vaccine for MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which is caused by the same family of viruses as COVID-19. That vaccine didn’t make it to clinical trials, but it opened the door for future collaborations with the NIH moving forward.
Today, Moderna is once again working with the NIH to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. Bancel has worked with Dr. Anthony Fauci in the past, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, who has also become the public face of the U.S. response to the pandemic. This gives Moderna access to the latest information about the virus, helping the company be more precise with its efforts.
Unlike other major players in the industry, Moderna has its own manufacturing plant in Norwood, MA. The plant uses automated machines to reduce the chances of human error. This also allows the company to streamline the development process instead of sending the product back and forth overseas. With limited onsite personnel, scientists and researchers don’t have to worry as much about putting themselves in harm’s way when working in the lab.
Since Moderna is also much smaller than other pharmaceutical companies, it may have another advantage, as well: The CEO can make important decisions quickly without having to meet with dozens of executives, business partners, and board members.
Scientists believe we could have our first batch of the vaccine by winter 2020 or early 2021. We will likely see multiple vaccines hitting the market at the same time, so the industry doesn’t have to rely on just one product or company.