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Not just another Covid-19 vaccine – here’s why you should care about Moderna

The 7th Covid-19 vaccine to be granted conditional approval in Malaysia is made by Moderna.

As implied by its name, Moderna is a thoroughly leading-edge pharmaceutical company. So prepubescent is the company that in fact, it was founded a little over a decade ago in 2010. Then, it went by the name ModeRNA Therapeutics prior to a rebranding exercise undertaken in 2018 that saw it adopt the current handle.

Although the short history of Moderna – especially when you compare it to its contemporaries such as Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, both of which were founded in mid-to-late 1800s – may suggest it is rather fledgling, the success of its Covid-19 vaccine and its highly efficacious result have significantly raised Moderna’s global profile in the eyes of investors, genetic experts and the public. 

The biotech company is built upon the idea of using mRNA, or messenger RNA, to pioneer a new class of transformative medicines. While Moderna has a wealth of vaccine candidates presently under various phases of pre-clinical and clinical trials – Zika, HIV, EBV, flu, Nipah and many more (all based on mRNA of course) – the only commercial product it owns is the Covid-19 vaccine. 

Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton speaks onstage during the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards show at The Shrine Auditorium on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Robyn BECK / AFP)

Riding the wave of unicorn start-ups, Moderna raised over US$600 million (RM2.53 billion in today’s exchange rates) in an initial public offering back in 2018. According to a Market Watch report, Moderna at the time of public listing on Nasdaq was the largest for a biotech company. The company was valued at US$7.5 billion (RM31.6 billion) when it had zero marketable product. 10 of 21 drugs in the pipeline were in clinical trials.

Today, thanks to its Covid-19 vaccine, Moderna is valued at a staggering US$167 billion (RM7.5 billion). Share prices have rocketed from US$23 (RM97 at today’s exchange rates) apiece at IPO to US$416 (RM1,754) apiece as of closing on August 5.  

That aside, the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine is also fascinating from the standpoint of public funding. It is dubbed the people’s vaccine – referring to Americans, not Malaysians – by some quarters and they aren’t wrong. Moderna received US$483 million (RM2.03 billion) and US$472 (RM1.99 billion) million in April and July 2020 respectively from the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, all of which came from taxpayers and legendary country artist Dolly Parton. These grants excluded additional US$1.53 billion (RM6.45 billion) from Operation Warp Speed in exchange for 100 million doses and the option for the American government to purchase up to 400 million additional doses. 

Not to be mistaken, however, Moderna does profit from the vaccine. The company which didn’t make money in the years before just announced that it has made US$2.8 billion (RM11.8 billion) in net profit in the preceding quarter alone. 

Going back to the vaccine and its efficacy 

According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Covid-19 mRNA vaccines, like Moderna’s, give instructions for our cells to make a harmless piece of what is called the spike protein. Once the protein piece is made, our cells break down and get rid of the mRNA. Recognising that the protein doesn’t belong in our bodies, the immune system mounts a response.

The vaccine is to be administered 28 days apart in two doses. Like any other vaccines, there are some side effects which will dissipate after a couple of days. They include tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea. There are also reports of very rare yet severe allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis, to the vaccine after the first dose. 

Based on data obtained from clinical trials, the vaccine was 94.1% effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 infection. With the Delta variant sweeping the world, circumstances have changed drastically since. 

How does the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine perform now? 

Researchers in Singapore determined that this vaccine is highly effective at preventing symptomatic and severe disease caused by the Delta variant. A recently published Canadian study establishes that one shot of Moderna achieves 72% efficacy 14 days after inoculation against symptomatic disease. It is also 96% effective against hospitalisation. No data is available for 2 doses. 

In an in-house laboratory test, the mRNA vaccine displays a 2.1-fold reduction in neutralising antibodies against Delta vis-à-vis the ancestral Covid-19 strain. On top of that, according to CNBC, a booster shot produces a robust antibody response against the highly contagious Delta variant.

Hero and feature images by Ian Hutchinson on Unsplash

Justin Ng
Digital Content Director, Kuala Lumpur
Often think of myself as a journalist and so I delve deeper into a range of topics. Talk to me about current affairs, watches, travel, drinks, new experiences and more importantly, the business, economics and dynamics behind it.