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Feb 25, 2021

Moderna reaches US$18.4B in 2021 vaccine pacts

Effectiveness of COVID vaccines against virus variants

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Moderna Inc. said it’s reached US$18.4 billion worth of signed agreements for its COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 and Chief Medical Officer Tal Zaks will leave the company in late September.

Moderna has retained a recruiter to find a replacement for Zaks with “global and commercial experience” as it scales up its vaccine and shepherds other products to market over the next few years, the company said Thursday in a fourth-quarter earnings statement.

“Moderna has been changed in a profound way,” Chief Executive Officer Stephane Bancel said on a call with investors. “Tal joined us when we were a clinical company, and now we have our own authorized product.”

Zaks has been key to the development of Moderna’s shot that uses genetic material called messenger RNA to turn cells into vaccine factories. The two-dose regimen became the company’s first marketed product when regulators granted it an emergency-use authorization in December, and Moderna will seek full approval later this year.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech has a pipeline of other drug and vaccine candidates in development that use the mRNA platform, now validated by the pandemic. As those experimental products inch closer to patients, Moderna is building a roster of executives who have experience to commercialize them. In January, it hired its first chief commercial officer, Corinne Le Goff, formerly president of Amgen Inc.’s U.S. business.

“It is just the beginning,” Bancel said on the call, noting that Moderna has eight other infectious disease-focused candidates in the pipeline, and will continue to expand the use of mRNA technology. “We are not a COVID-19 vaccine company.”

First Revenues

Still, the shot has made the company cash-positive, and sales projections may increase. Moderna has signed more than US$18 billion in advanced purchase agreements for its COVID-19 vaccines. It remains in conversations with governments around the world to supply additional doses.

Earlier this year, Pfizer Inc., which has developed a similar mRNA-based COVID vaccine with its partner BioNTech SE, projected US$15 billion in sales for 2021. In the U.S., the Pfizer-BioNTech is priced at US$39 for the full regimen, while Moderna’s costs US$33.

Moderna’s total fourth-quarter revenue was US$571, according to the company, US$200 million of which came from vaccine sales, with other revenue coming from grants. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg had estimated revenue of US$287.6 million.

The vaccine maker aims to deliver as many as 1 billion doses in 2021, and 1.4 billion doses in 2022. On Wednesday, the company raised the lower end of its 2021 projection from 600 million doses to 700 million doses.

Moderna also faced questions on the call about its efforts to study and develop multiple COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to protect against emerging variants. It has already manufactured doses of a new version modified to target the South Africa strain, B.1.351, and shipped them to the National Institutes of Health for further study. Pfizer and BioNTech have begun studying whether a third shot of their vaccine can stimulate stronger immune responses against variants.

Moderna rose as much as 9.3 per cent as of 9:43 a.m. in New York. The shares had fallen for the past three days as investors braced for quarterly results.

--With assistance from Robert Langreth.