Moderna’s Covid Deals Top $18 Billion; Medical Chief Exits

Moderna Inc. said it has reached $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.

The shot-maker is seeking a replacement for Zaks with “global and commercial experience” as it scales up manufacturing and shepherds other products to market over the next few years, according to a statement Thursday. Its Covid-19 vaccine sales have the potential to grow even further as the biotech continues to negotiate supply agreements with governments around the world.

Moderna’s Covid Deals Top $18 Billion; Medical Chief Exits

“Moderna has been changed in a profound way,” Chief Executive Officer Stephane Bancel said on a fourth-quarter earnings 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 available product when regulators granted it an emergency-use authorization in December. Moderna will seek full approval later this year.

Moderna rose as much as 11% as of 11 a.m. in New York. The shares had fallen for the past three days as investors braced for quarterly results.

Commercial Focus

Moderna has become that rare creature: a biotech company that goes from innovative concept to blockbuster product without having been purchased by a major drugmaker. Across the pharma spectrum, behemoths are looking for budding technologies and startups with prospects for the billions in sales that Moderna has begun to deliver. The shares have risen almost eight-fold since the beginning of last year, when the coronavirus appeared.

Moderna’s success in ushering forth a pandemic-fighting vaccine would not have been possible without its collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, which was also responsible for years of early mRNA research. The Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed program also made more than $950 million available to develop and test the vaccine, and the U.S. has committed to spending billions to purchase 300 million doses through July.

Pfizer Inc.’s German vaccine partner BioNTech SE has undergone a similar transformation, more than tripling in value as the mRNA technology it was using to develop cancer therapies became a weapon in the fight against the coronavirus.

Like BioNTech, Cambridge-Massachusetts-based Moderna 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

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

Earlier this year, Pfizer projected $15 billion in vaccine sales for 2021. In the U.S., the Pfizer-BioNTech shot is priced at $39 for the full regimen, while Moderna’s costs $33.

Moderna’s total fourth-quarter revenue was $571, according to the company, $200 million of which came from vaccine sales, with other revenue coming from grants. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg had estimated revenue of $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 NIH for further study. Pfizer and BioNTech have begun studying whether a third shot of their vaccine can stimulate stronger immune responses against variants.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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