Feb 4, 2021 - Health

Moderna CEO says company needs to adapt with coronavirus variants

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel.
Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel. Photo: Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Moderna's CEO Stéphane Bancel tells Axios the company's coronavirus vaccine made it to market in near-record time thanks in part to a unique digital foundation.

The big picture: Moderna is far smaller than many of its pharma competitors, but it made one of the first authorized COVID-19 vaccines. But the company still needs to adapt to a mutating virus — and come up with its next blockbuster product.

What they're saying: While Moderna's SARS-CoV-2 vaccine is already beginning to make a dent in the pandemic, the shifting virus still poses a major challenge to the company and all of humanity, Bancel told Axios in an interview.

  • "I think the world does not understand what's coming ahead of us," says Bancel. "I don't think we're out of the woods at all on this pandemic."

Background: That Moderna — which is barely more than a decade old and is far smaller than most of its competitors — was able to bring its vaccine to market in less than a year is a testament to the flexibility of its mRNA platform and its early embrace of digital technology and machine learning.

  • At bigger companies where Bancel worked in the past, "I'd spend days trying to figure out what was the truth, because you'd have different data for the same thing," he says.
  • "We try to be a company where all the data flows and where there's only one system, one truth."

What's next: The emergence of coronavirus variants that may render vaccines less effective has Moderna preparing booster shots — something that's easier to do with the mRNA platform.

  • The COVID-19 vaccines made by Moderna and other companies could become a recurring product, just as the seasonal flu shot is now.

What to watch: How quickly Moderna can continue to scale up manufacturing to meet demand, a function that Bancel says is limited by regulatory requirements and sheer technical complexity.

  • Is there much that can be done "in the short term?" he asks. "Not really."

Go deeper: Moderna says vaccine appears to protect against new COVID-19 variants

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