Most Americans had never heard of Moderna before the pandemic. In less than a year, the biotech startup produced the most effective Covid vaccine in the world, exemplifying American leadership in scientific innovation. Now, the Biden administration is showing its gratitude by stabbing the company in the back.
Even by Washington standards, the administration’s double cross is remarkable. In recent weeks, Biden officials have let the media know that they are very unhappy with Moderna for allegedly putting the profits on immunizing the world’s poor.
In a panel on Wednesday with left-wing groups, White House Covid Czar David Kessler put the administration’s complaints, along with a threat, on file. “We had very, very intense discussions with Moderna,” said Dr. Kessler. “Do not underestimate the determination of the United States government to solve this problem. “
Moderna has already pledged 500 million doses to Covax, the World Health Organization-backed group that distributes donated vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. But progressives want the White House to use the Defense Production Act (or other means) for Moderna to share its intellectual property with the world.
In a letter to Dr Kessler on Tuesday, 12 Congressional Democrats, led by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, claimed the government may have the right to confiscate Moderna’s intellectual property because it received “huge amounts of money. US taxpayer public funding amounts ”. “The authorities held Moderna ‘by the hand on a daily basis,’ they said.
This is all wrong. To deflect the accusation of the left that the United States has accumulated vaccines, the White House is giving Moderna the role of scapegoat. Someone needs to correct this progressive misinformation before it undermines the great promise of American biotechnology.
Start with the fiction that the government created Moderna’s vaccine hit. The startup had “neither succeeded in bringing a product to market nor advanced a candidate vaccine to three clinical trials” before the pandemic, write Ms. Warren and her friends. Vaccines typically take a decade or more to develop. Moderna was launched in 2010.
The startup pioneered mRNA, which uses the genetic code to tell human cells how to make proteins. One of the advantages of mRNA is that it can be made quickly at low cost, unlike traditional vaccines. While the creation of mRNA itself is straightforward, the challenge of research has long been to transmit it to cells.
Before the pandemic, Moderna had invested more than $ 2.5 billion in the development of its platform, which includes the lipid nanoparticles that encapsulate mRNA. It has more than 30 mRNA vaccines and therapeutics in its clinical pipeline, and before the pandemic, six prophylactic vaccines had shown positive results in phase 1 trials.
This is why the National Institutes of Health sought in January 2020 to collaborate with Moderna on a Covid vaccine. Big drugmakers were reluctant to step in, as Anthony Fauci and Ron Klain (now White House chief of staff) explained at the time, because some had lost money trying to produce a vaccine against Ebola. They didn’t want to take that risk anymore.
Moderna volunteered but only had $ 250 million in cash at the end of 2019, which was not enough to conduct large-scale trials. The Trump administration gave him $ 900 million for testing. Following the success of its Phase 1 trial, Moderna raised $ 1.3 billion in private capital to scale up manufacturing. It only had about 800 employees (it now has about 1,800) compared to Pfizer‘s
The Trump administration ordered 200 million doses of Moderna in advance at a cost of $ 3.2 billion to ensure Americans would be the first to receive the vaccines once approved. The Biden administration ordered 100 million additional doses in February and 200 million in June. So no, Senator Warren, the government did not give Moderna $ 10 billion.
The government paid Moderna so Americans could get its vaccine before the rest of the world, and the cost was paltry compared to the tens of thousands of lives it saved. The immunity of Moderna’s vaccine was also found to be more durable than that of Pfizer because it includes three times the mRNA.
Moderna quickly expanded its manufacturing capacity to one billion doses this year and plans to increase its capacity to two to three billion doses next year. (The combined global annual influenza vaccine capacity is only 1.5 billion.) Ten percent of Moderna’s Covid vaccine supply this year goes to Covax and 20% in the first quarter of next year.
Other companies have also grown and around 23 to 33 million doses have been administered each day over the past 30 days. About 3.8 billion people worldwide have received at least one dose. In a few months, there will be enough doses for every adult on the planet. The biggest challenge is the logistics in low-income countries to distribute the vaccines, and Moderna is helping that as well.
On intellectual property, Moderna has agreed not to enforce its patents and has contracts with manufacturers in low-income countries for “fill and finish” work that requires less expertise. This is not enough for the left, which wants the Biden administration to force Moderna to transfer its know-how to these manufacturers. This is what the Chinese government is doing to American companies.
Progressives indeed want Mr. Biden to hand over precious US biotechnology secrets to the Chinese and Russians. Nothing in Moderna’s contracts with the U.S. government gives the administration the right to do so, and it would set a horrible precedent that would discourage innovation and private collaboration with the government in future pandemics.
Pfizer seems even smarter to reject government funding for its trials. “When you get money from someone, it always comes with strings,” CEO Albert Bourla said last September. But Pfizer, unlike Moderna, has a huge track record.
Moderna is leveraging Covid vaccine profits from sales to wealthier countries to fund other mRNA vaccines against such plagues as RSV, cytomegalovirus and Zika, which will primarily benefit low-income countries. The United States pays Moderna only $ 15 for a single dose of vaccine, $ 30 for a full regimen.
The White House plank against Moderna is despicable but also too typical.
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