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In January, Stéphane Bancel, the chief executive of Moderna, was skimming through the news on his iPad while vacationing with his family in the south of France. A headline stopped his finger: “Health Officials Work to Solve China’s Mystery Virus Outbreak,” The Wall Street Journal reported on January 6.
The Frenchman, who is 48, wrote an email to Dr. Barney Graham, a vaccine researcher at the US National Institutes of Health, asking him what he knew about these pneumonia cases cropping up in central China.
Graham said he didn’t yet know the identity of the mysterious virus, but within a few days it was identified as a novel coronavirus. Bancel urged the Graham to let him know when government scientists had the virus’ genetic sequence.
His company, Moderna, was ready to get to work.
Now, less than a year later, Moderna and the NIH have developed a vaccine that appears to be highly effective at preventing people from coming down with COVID-19, the disease caused by that new virus. The speed with which Moderna and another program, led by Pfizer and BioNTech, have worked to develop a vaccine against a new virus is unprecedented.
If both vaccines secure emergency-use authorization before year’s end, about 20 million Americans could be immunized in December, leading government scientists say. An emergency OK could mark the beginning of the end of the coronavirus’ hold on the world.
A new era of vaccine research
Beyond the pandemic, Moderna is now among a handful of companies looking to usher in a new era of vaccine research, built around technologies that are far faster than traditional methods. The new approach promises a revolution in how vaccines will be made and, for Moderna, a chance to capture a bigger slice of a $35 billion vaccine market dominated by big pharma companies.
“This is not the same game,” Bancel previously told Business Insider. “We never saw the virus. We don’t need to see the virus. What we need is the genetic instruction of the virus.”
For now the pandemic rages on. The US is seeing surges in new infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Experts fear the winter could be the bleakest stretch.
Vaccine supplies will be extremely limited for the next several months, though manufacturing is ramping up. People who are particularly vulnerable to the virus, such as older people or those with underlying health conditions, as well as some medical workers, will likely be immunized first.
A shot could be widely available to many more Americans in the spring or early summer, perhaps beginning in April, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the NIH’s infectious-disease division.
Investors haven’t waited to back Bancel’s vision for Moderna’s potential. The company’s stock has increased by about 400% since the beginning of the year. Moderna commands a $39 billion market value, making it one of the most highly valued biotechs.
Despite being a fraction of their size, Moderna competed toe to toe with pharmaceutical giants in the race for a COVID-19 vaccine, announcing positive efficacy results a week …read more
Source:: Business Insider