- Small biotech company appears to have key -

There may be a vaccine for the novel coronavirus by this time next year. That’s the hope of a small biotech company called Moderna.

The company, based in Cambridge, Mass., is known in the venture capital world as a “biotech unicorn.” A unicorn is a privately held startup company – Moderna is 10 years old – valued at $1 billion and, like the mythical unicorn, is a rare success in the business world.

Moderna has a dozen programs in clinical studies and another nine experimental drugs in preclinical testing, according to its website, but has earned notice in the media world. While several major pharmaceutical companies are rushing to develop a vaccine against COVID-19, Moderna appears to be first in line.

Here’s why. On March 16, Moderna announced in a press release that “… the first participant has been dosed in the Phase 1 study of the company’s mRNA vaccine against the novel coronavirus … this Phase 1 study is being conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under its own Investigational New Drug (IND) application.”

The media took notice. Yahoo Finance wrote, “… the study design suggests it may take at least 12 months for top-line data; Moderna is actively preparing for initiating a phase II study to evaluate…”

The Motley Fool headlined its March 17 online edition, “Why Is Everyone Talking about Moderna? This small biotech is the leader in developing a vaccine that just might work against the novel coronavirus.” The publication noted that Moderna’s shares skyrocketed 33% higher  in spite of Wall Street’s March 16 market meltdown “… There’s a lot of buzz surrounding the company right now.”

The buzz was aptly described by Axios, another smartly written online newsletter that keeps track of all kinds of fascinating stories including the ever-evolving world of coronavirus.

“Moderna had been collaborating for several years with NIAID on developing coronavirus vaccines,” Axios writes in its newsletter, “and had been preparing for a 2020 ‘pandemic test’… to see how quickly it could design, develop and mass manufacture a global vaccine.”

That time is now. Axios reports Moderna quickly designed a vaccine on its computers and is now first to go to clinical trials. This first phase, according to the Moderna press release, is evaluating the safety and immunogenicity of three dose levels administered on a two-dose vaccine, given 28 days apart to 45 healthy adults. They’ll be followed for 12 months after the second vaccination.

What is unique about Moderna’s vaccine is that the foundation of their technology is based on making medicines within a person’s own cells rather than creating medicine from cells in a lab. Many companies are working on a vaccine including Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline and Gilead, but Moderna seems to be leading the way. It’s no guarantee that Moderna will be first or be successful, but it sure is satisfying to be writing about something encouraging and downright optimistic. 

To learn more about Moderna, visit modernatx.com.

Tom Broad
Author: Tom BroadEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Columnist
Besides being a proud graduate of The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and, therefore, a Cornhusker, I am retired from Memorial Hermann. I am a correspondent and columnist for Lake Houston's hometown paper, The Tribune, as well as a director of the Lake Houston Redevelopment Corporation, a member of the board of the Humble Area Assistance Ministries, and Volunteer Extraordinaire for the Lake Houston Area Chamber.

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