Someone old, someone new: Moderna promotes CTO, raids Novartis for replacement amid pipeline push
Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel made clear on the last quarterly call that “now is not the time to slow down.” On Thursday, he made a bit more room in the cockpit.
The company unveiled a new executive role on Thursday, promoting former chief technical operations and quality officer Juan Andres to president of strategic partnerships and enterprise expansion, and poaching a former Novartis exec to take his place.
Jerh Collins, who was most recently chief culture officer at Novartis, will join Moderna on Oct. 3 and assume the CTO position on Jan. 1 as Andres makes his transition. Both execs will report directly to Bancel.
It’s all part of what Bancel calls Moderna’s “next phase of growth,” as he attempts to push beyond the company’s reputation as a Covid vaccine company and build up the broader mRNA platform. The team has a few late-stage projects waiting in the wings, including a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine program that’s headed for a readout in the next year or so, and a flu program that Bancel is positioning for a potential accelerated approval next year.
Bancel said the new hires come as the company preps for “several upcoming new product launches.”
Collins brings nearly 30 years of Novartis experience to the table, where he served a variety of lead production and manufacturing roles. He noted that he’s worked with Andres “for many years,” as the two both held long tenures at Novartis.
“I’m confident that Jerh possesses the mindset and experience to expand our production footprint as we grow globally and internalize more of our production capabilities,” he said in a news release. The company was not immediately available for an interview.
The news comes as the federal government grapples with shortages of the company’s recently authorized bivalent Covid booster shot caused by manufacturing delays over a safety inspection at Catalent’s Indiana plant. The FDA cleared an additional five batches from the plant on Monday after deciding they’re safe for use.
Moderna’s first-gen vaccine, Spikevax, earned the company $17.7 billion last year alone. However, in an effort to raise awareness for the rest of the pipeline, the company undertook a major rebrand in July.
“We’re proud of being a Covid company — that was the proof point of our technology,” chief brand officer Kate Cronin told Endpoints News at the time. “But now we have 40-plus programs that we’re studying, and we want the world to know we believe in this technology, and there’s a future beyond Covid.”
That includes a cytomegalovirus (CMV) program, which was among the company’s lead programs before Covid-19 came around. CMV is a type of latent herpes virus, and the most common cause of infection before birth, according to Moderna. The company’s candidate, mRNA-1647, is in Phase III trial to evaluate congenital infection, which is currently enrolling.
Further along is the company’s seasonal flu vaccine, mRNA-1010, which is in a fully enrolled study in the south and is slated for an accelerated approval application next year.
As for RSV, a Phase III trial is “rapidly advancing toward completion,” with a readout expected in the 2022-2023 winter season. Moderna’s also expecting a Phase II readout from its precision cancer vaccine, mRNA-4157, in combination with Keytruda in the fourth quarter of this year.
Combination vaccine trials covering the flu, Covid and RSV should be launched this year as well, Moderna said at a recent investor event. And on the Q2 call, president Stephen Hoge revealed that the company’s been looking into a preclinical monkeypox program which could potentially be ramped up “very quickly.”