He estimated the time frame for the creation of a new combined product in “three to five years” and compared the development of a life-saving blow to a smartphone.
“You don’t get an amazing camera, amazing everything when you first get an iPhone, but you get a lot of things,” he said.
Bansel believes that the Covid-19 pandemic, which has helped the company generate tens of billions of dollars in revenue and build business in more than 70 markets around the world, could end this year.
This does not mean that the virus will go anywhere, he noted.
“I think we’re slowly moving — if it’s not already in some countries — to a world where all the tools are available and everyone can make their own decision based on their risk tolerance,” he explained, adding that he believed , more people will choose to “live with the virus” like the flu.
However, the approach will continue to vary greatly, for example among people with weakened immune systems or in countries such as Japan, where it was customary to wear masks even before the pandemic, he acknowledged.
And “there’s always a 20% chance that we’ll get a very nasty variant that causes a very severe disease that has a lot of mutations,” he added.
The next big thing
And yet Moderna is determined not to become a one-time wonder.
The company has more than 40 products under development and plans to extend its life beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, Bansel said.
In addition to the updated annual vaccination, the company is continuing to develop a personalized cancer vaccine for which new clinical data will be published later this year. Bansel said the product could be approved in about two years if all goes well.
And Moderna seeks to catch up with foreign competitors.
At the beginning of this year, the company announced its entry into 10 markets in Asia and Europe, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Denmark and the Netherlands. The investment will cost “tens of millions of dollars” and include hundreds of new employees, Bansel said.
Bancel said the new facilities will be critical to tailoring its products to the different strains of disease that are evolving around the world.
When the world first faced the onset of Covid-19, Moderna was one of the few major manufacturers that rushed to prepare their vaccines, reducing the time frame from years to months. Its stock is up 434% in 2020 and 143% last year.
The cancellation resulted in huge losses for the company, which bought new machines to fill those orders, and more importantly, resulted in Covid vaccines being thrown into the trash, Bansel said.
“We ended up destroying vaccines,” he said. “It was really painful.”
The director-general said he was not concerned about a repeat of such a drop in demand in richer countries, in part because governments have already shown a commitment to use vaccines later this year to avoid reimposing economic restrictions.
But “for a low-income country, yes, I’m concerned,” he said.