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Interview with Moderna's CEO

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Politics aside, this has been a fascinating read. 


Bancel: Yes. So, I've been working in infectious disease all my career, and I've developed an eye for outbreaks. So, one of the things I do is read The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times every morning as I get up. And between Christmas and New Year of last year, I noticed an article saying that there is a new pathogen agent in China giving pneumonia-like symptoms - that's all it says.

And so, I sent an email to somebody working for Tony Fauci, Barney Graham, who we've been collaborating with for years designing several vaccines together. And I say, "Hey, Barney, have you seen the new pathogen in China? What is it? Is it a bacteria or is it a virus?" And he replied to me a few hours later and he says, "It's not a bacteria, it seems to be a virus, but we don't know which one yet."

And a day or two after, Barney sent me an email and said, "We learned from our contacts in China, it's not flu, it's not RSV, we don't know what it is yet." And then another day goes by and he says, "It's a coronavirus, but it's not SARS and it's not MERS, it's a new coronavirus. Within a day or two, the sequence should be put online by the Chinese." And so on January 11, the Chinese put the sequence online and our team at Moderna used the sequence to design a vaccine. Barney's team did the same thing. And when they shared notes after around 48 hours, they'd designed exactly the same vaccine.

Conde: A couple things that are fascinating about this. Number one, the fact that the digital copy of this virus came from China before the biological version reached our shores. That's remarkable, in and of itself - that we knew what we were dealing with, at least digitally, in a matter of days thanks to all of the advances of genomic sequencing technology. But the other remarkable advancement in technology here is that from what you just described, you were able to design a vaccine based on the digital version of the virus also in a matter of days, is it?

Bancel: So, right, Jorge, and this is a piece that I think most people in pharma don't appreciate yet about the power of mRNA technology: In 48 hours, we designed and locked down the entire chemical structure of a vaccine.


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Generally, I would be hesitant to take any medicine that has not gone through the FDA approval process. But in this case, I wonder if we could shorten the fast-track process even further (and provide an option to people who are willing to take the risk). According to the Moderna interview, both the CDC and Moderna had the vaccine chemical structure "locked down" on 1/13/2020, two days after the Chinese provided the virus sequence. I assume we can similarly get the sequences for the mutations in a matter of days, and also lock down the new vaccine recipes in days.


The survey of 77 experts from some of the world’s leading academic institutions across 28 countries found that almost a third gave a time frame of nine months or less. Fewer than 1 in 8 said they believed that mutations would never render the current vaccines ineffective.


Edited by PTakacs
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