Moderna: The Multi-Billion Dollar Startup with the Covid Vaccine

US biotech startup, Moderna, have just announced 95% efficacy for their latest Covid-19 vaccine trials and although they have been a player in the global pharmaceutical market for quite some time, they have not been thrust into the limelight like never before, which their more than 94% effective Covid-19 vaccine.

Who are Moderna?

Moderna Therapeutics is a US-based pharmaceutical company. Unlike its competitor Pfizer, Moderna is a relatively new name in the pharmaceutical sector. Founded in 2010, it now boasts over 1000 employees and has raised over a total of $2.7B in funding over 12 rounds. They have managed to team up with some of the most well-known pharmaceutical giants including Merck, Institut Pasteur and AstraZeneca. The company is notoriously secretive and its work culture encourages employees to “live the mission”. The company was founded by CEO Stéphane Bancel. Now based in Massachusetts, Bancel is originally from France. He boasts an impressive resume including two master’s in engineering, an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and a background as CEO of French diagnostics company BioMérieux.

Their Approach

Since their inception, Moderna have dedicated themselves to a range of pharmaceutical research. However, they offer a unique approach. The company was founded on the idea that by modifying messenger RNA (mRNA), they could produce a unique set of drugs and vaccines. Thus, they focus exclusively on methods involving the manipulation of mRNA. They are the only pharmaceutical company to use mRNA for their vaccines. The vaccines deliver mRNA which causes the body’s immune system to produce antibodies. These antibodies are then ready to attack the virus if the individual is exposed to it.


Although their key areas of focus have been genetic disorders, haemophilia, oncology and blood factors, coronavirus is not Modern’s first foray into the world of vaccines. Typically using in vivo drug modality to initiate antibody productions, they have released promising results for two other vaccines. One, chikunguny, is a mosquito-borne disease common in Africa and Asia. The other, for cytomegalovirus, helps to prevent birth defects. Additionally, they are undergoing research to develop cancer vaccines in collaboration with Merck.

Latest Trials

Their latest coronavirus vaccine trial tested 30,000 people: the experimental group and the placebo (or dummy vaccine) group. The experimental group (half of the 30,000) were given two doses of the vaccine, 4 weeks apart. They used the first 95 to develop Covid-19 symptoms to base their analysis. Of those given the vaccine, a very small percentage of cases was found. Only 5 of the 95 first cases were from the experimental group. Conversely, 90 of the 95 cases were found in the dummy vaccine group. None of the severe cases were found in the vaccinated group. From this, Moderna has concluded that the vaccine is 94.5% effective at preventing Covid-19.

The Race for a Vaccine

This news comes just after Pfizer’s announcement of their 90% effective Covid-19 vaccine. Like the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna vaccine also involves injecting a part of the genetic code of Coronavirus to initiate an immune response. Results are similar; Pfizer reported a 90% efficacy and Modern reported 95%. However, both of them are still in the trial phase.

Unknown Quantity

Like everything related to Covid-19, there are still many questions left unanswered. It is too soon to tell if the vaccine is 100% safe. Whilst there were no severe side effects reported, it is unknown how long the immunity of the vaccine will last. Researchers are still unsure whether the vaccine prevents the illness or whether it is able to also stop the spread of the virus.

Next Steps

Like Pfizer, Moderna plans to head to the US FDA to authorise the vaccine. The company hopes that the first Covid-19 vaccinations can begin as early as the end of December. However, there may be a long waiting period until everyone is vaccinated. High priority individuals (such as front line workers and the elderly) will be vaccinated first.