What drove Moderna's vaccine success? 5 key steps the drugmaker took

When Moderna was founded in 2010, leaders in the pharmaceutical industry guffawed at the idea that mRNA could be useful in medicine. This year, the drugmaker, which only makes products based on mRNA technology, is poised to deliver 1 billion doses of its COVID-19 vaccine and gain $19 billion in revenue, Bloomberg reported July 14.

Below are five key steps on Moderna took on its journey to vaccine success:

  1. Moderna was founded by scientists from two Cambridge, Mass.-based universities, Harvard and MIT. The company's focus was always on building mRNA technology for medical use, and it licensed a slightly modified version of mRNA that two researchers from the Philadelphia-based University of Pennsylvania developed to generate a more controlled immune response in the body.

  2. During the company's early years, it focused on developing therapeutics, including programs for cancer and heart disease. Its focus shifted after CEO Stéphane Bancel realized producing vaccines would be a better way to prove the medical efficacy of mRNA technology.

  3. When the pandemic emerged and Moderna began developing an mRNA vaccine to prevent COVID-19, the U.S. agreed to pay the company $955 million for its vaccine trials and initial small-scale production. The young biotech couldn't find any country willing to pay for its full manufacturing scale-up, so it raised $1.3 billion in May 2020 via a stock offering. 

  4. Also during May 2020, Moderna signed a 10-year contract with Swiss drug manufacturer Lonza to produce the majority of the company's European COVID-19 vaccine supply. The deal has been expanded twice. Moderna has also contracted Sanofi, Samsung Biologics and Thermo Fisher Scientific to help with its fill and finish manufacturing.

  5. Moderna has three types of COVID-19 booster vaccines in phase 2 trials. One is a lower-dose version of its original vaccine, one designed to target the beta variant first identified in South Africa and a third that combines both.

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