The CEO of coronavirus vaccine frontrunner Moderna shares why the biotech plans to make a flu vaccine, including a potential combo shot that would also prevent COVID-19 (MRNA)

FILE PHOTO: A sign marks the headquarters of Moderna Therapeutics, which is developing a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., May 18, 2020.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder

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Moderna, a frontrunner in the race to create the first coronavirus vaccine, announced Thursday that it will start working on vaccines that can prevent the seasonal flu, expanding its research portfolio into a space dominated by pharmaceutical giants.

In an interview with Business Insider, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said the decision to enter the influenza market became “self-evident” after reviewing early results from elderly volunteers who took the company’s experimental coronavirus vaccine. 

That data showed older individuals who got the experimental shot generated high levels of neutralizing antibodies, or virus-fighting proteins that play a critical role in the body’s immune response. The data gave Bancel hope that Moderna can develop a more effective flu vaccine, he said.

Read more: There are 176 coronavirus vaccines in the works. Here’s how top drugmakers see the race for a cure playing out in 2020 and 2021 and when the first shots might be available.

Since its founding in 2010, Moderna has developed a unique approach to vaccines based on messenger RNA, or mRNA. While this platform is unproven, with no federally approved mRNA-based vaccines, it holds tremendous promise in its ability to quickly produce vaccine candidates. In the case of COVID-19, Moderna was the first drug company in the world to start human trials in March. 

Bancel said he expects that advantage to help Moderna in developing a flu vaccine as well. Traditional vaccine methods require months of advance work to grow cells that a vaccine is based on, and scientists have to guess well in advance which flu strain to target.

“We have the ability to move very fast, which means we don’t have to use the strain that is guessed by the [World Health Organization] in February based on what happened last winter in Australia,” Bancel said. “We can have a very quick response time.”

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In part because researchers don’t always get the flu strains right, the seasonal flu vaccine typically is about 40% to 60% effective. Elderly people often get less protection from certain vaccines because they have a weaker immune response.

Bancel said he’s hopeful that a flu vaccine from Moderna would overcome both problems, and ultimately prove to be more effective than existing shots. That would position Moderna to take on pharmaceutical-industry heavyweights like GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi that currently produce flu shots each year. Those companies are also among Moderna’s rivals in the coronavirus vaccine race.

Thinking further down the line, Bancel outlined a strategy of developing one shot that could protect against multiple diseases, including influenza, COVID-19, and potentially respiratory syncytial virus. Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is common and usually causes symptoms similar to a cold. But in rare cases it can be far more severe, particularly in the elderly.

Read more: The untold story of Moderna as the biotech’s coronavirus vaccine faces a test that could make it one of the most consequential startups of all time

“You start to think about a respiratory vaccine for the elderly and for healthy young adults that could be game-changing …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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