Moderna CEO Says Covid Vaccines Will Be Like ‘iPhone’

As Covid-19 continues to mutate, Moderna will have to keep revamping the vaccines that have made it a global name in an effort to make it more convenient for consumers, CEO Stefan Bansel said in an interview with CNN Business Wednesday.

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.

“Many of us buy a new iPhone every September and you get new apps and you get updated apps. And it’s exactly the same idea, meaning you’ll get Covid, flu, and RSV. [respiratory syncytial virus] in your single dose.”
Having recorded rapid growth during the pandemic, Modern (mRNA) is now under pressure to identify its next big frontier.

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.

The company is also studying a potential injection for monkeypox, which is “still in the lab today,” Bansel said. Last month, the World Health Organization declared the global outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.

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.

Members of the public wait in line at Moderna's Covid-19 vaccination facility in Taipei, Taiwan, in April.  This year, the company is moving deeper into Asia, opening new subsidiaries.
He sees this as just one wave of expansion that will eventually take Moderna from direct operations in 12 countries this year to “40 to 60 countries” over the next three years.
The company has also recently signed manufacturing deals in the United Kingdom, South Korea and Australia, and hopes to establish one or two more plants in Southeast or North Asia.

Bancel said the new facilities will be critical to tailoring its products to the different strains of disease that are evolving around the world.

Pfizer and Moderna have created life-saving vaccines.  So why are their shares falling?

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.

But now, as peers Pfizer (PFE) and BioNTech (BNTX)the company’s shares have tumbled, down more than 30% this year and 64% from their all-time high a year ago.
Last week, the company said it took a write-off of nearly $500 million in the second quarter, in part due to the sudden cancellation of orders from Covax, an international vaccination program for low-income countries.

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.

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