US spent nearly $32B in public funds on mRNA vaccine development, study finds
The US government contributed at least $31.9 billion in public funding to the development of mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccines, according to a new BMJ study.
That includes at least $337 million in the three decades prior to the pandemic, seven researchers from Brigham and Women’s Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) wrote. More than $29 billion was used to purchase vaccines.
For co-author and primary care physician Hussain Lalani, the study began as a way to understand the origins of mRNA vaccines and convey to patients that the Covid shots were not created overnight.
However, the authors are also concerned with the public’s return on investment. While mRNA vaccine doses are estimated to cost between $1 to $3 apiece to manufacture, according to the researchers, Moderna and Pfizer recently announced plans to charge health insurance plans between $110 to $130 per dose.
Moderna recently announced that people won’t need to pay out-of-pocket for its Covid vaccine, regardless of their insurance status, and Pfizer has previously committed to offering uninsured US residents free access to its vaccine through the company’s patient assistance program.
“We believe that the US government catalyzed and accelerated the development of these vaccines and that life-saving publicly funded technologies should be accessible and affordable to all people globally,” Lalani told Endpoints News.
While the researchers collected funding information from databases at the NIH, DOD and BARDA, Lalani said their estimate is likely hundreds of millions to billions of dollars lower than the amount of public funds actually spent.
“The part that is a conservative estimate is the pre-pandemic part, the 1985 to 2019,” he said. “We can say that because we found there was another about $6 billion in indirect funding that we didn’t review intensely. So some of that very likely contributed to the vaccine.”
That’s on top of $3.2 billion in venture cash poured into mRNA programs in 2021, followed by another $2 billion followed in 2022, according to DealForma’s Chris Dokomajilar.
The news comes roughly a week after Moderna revealed in its Q4 earnings results that it paid the NIH $400 million “related to a catch-up payment” for a patent license struck in December. The license covered “certain patent rights concerning stabilizing prefusion coronavirus spike proteins and the resulting stabilized proteins for the use in Covid-19 vaccine products or 2P technology,” CFO James Mock said on the earnings call. Moderna became embroiled in a dispute with the NIH back in 2021 over who invented its life-saving Covid-19 vaccine.
“This is just really the beginning of the mRNA technology,” Lalani said. “It’s really important for us to keep in mind that any and all future uses of this technology are going to utilize these basic building blocks that were publicly funded and accelerated.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify the amount invested in the purchase of vaccines.