With mRNA proof of concept on display in Covid-19, Moderna plots HIV vaccine moonshot as part of pipeline expansion
Moderna’s march from early herald of mRNA to savior in the fight against Covid-19 has been a sight to behold as better-funded competitors in the race for a vaccine have fallen by the wayside. Now, with its proof of concept validated, Moderna is adding to its aggressive R&D plan and looking to break ground along the way.
With an FDA emergency use authorization for its mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccine showing promise for its once-unlikely mechanism of action, Moderna is expanding its ever-growing pipeline, which now includes two long-shot tries at HIV, the company said Monday.
Moderna will try its mRNA science in two vaccines targeting HIV, both of which are expected to enter Phase I trial in 2021, the Boston area biotech said. In addition, Moderna will advance three new vaccines against the flu, with trials also expected this year, and in Nipah virus, which can cause severe respiratory and neurologic complications and has no treatment other than intensive supportive care, Moderna said.
In all, Moderna’s pipeline now includes 24 separate vaccines across five therapeutic areas, the company said, and 13 of those prospects are in some phase of clinical development.
“Even as we have shown that our mRNA-based vaccine can prevent COVID-19, this has encouraged us to pursue more-ambitious development programs within our prophylactic vaccines modality,” CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a release.
A collaboration with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, mRNA-1644 will aim to use a “novel approach” to elicit HIV neutralizing antibodies, Moderna said, with a Phase I study aiming to identify and use multiple antigens for germline targeting and immuno-focusing. The second vaccine hopeful, mRNA-1574, a collaboration with the NIH, will use a similar approach with multiple native-like trimeric antigens.
If the program eventually turns out a winner, it would be the first vaccine approved for HIV, which affects around 38 million patients worldwide.
Once considered a biotech with aspirations slightly out of whack with reality, Moderna has gone on to prove the haters wrong with a December EUA for its Covid-19 vaccine, joining just Pfizer and BioNTech as one of two shots approved for the novel coronavirus on the US market. With most of the groundwork for that mechanism of action now laid at the FDA’s feet, Moderna’s expansive pipeline now looks primed to keep adding marketed products in the coming years.
That pipeline includes both prophylactic vaccines targeting cytomegalovirus and Epstein-Barr, respiratory diseases and public health initiatives like Zika and influenza, and “exploratory” uses in cancer and regenerative therapeutics like VEGF-A.
Moderna’s R&D growth has been complemented by a boom in the company’s workforce, it said in a release. Moderna sits at roughly 1,300 employees — a big jump from the 820 workers on staff at the end of 2019.