Moderna Preps for Global Launch of COVID Vaccine, Though Trial is Ongoing

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Bio-tech firm Moderna is feeling pretty confident about its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. Indeed, the Massachusetts-based company has already taken in $1.1 billion in deposits from various governments in preparation of its global launch.

The drug-maker says it is in talks with the COVAX initiative, a project backed by the World Health Organization. Together they are continuing to negotiate a tiered pricing proposal for the as yet unapproved vaccine, which it tentatively calls mRNA-1273. The pharma company already has supply agreements in North America, the Middle East, and other global regions.

“We are actively preparing for the launch of mRNA-1273 and we have signed a number of supply agreements with governments around the world,” wrote Moderna CEO Stephane Bancal in a press release. “Moderna is committed to the highest data quality standards and rigorous scientific research as we continue to work with regulators to advance mRNA-1273.” As of midmorning Friday, shares of Moderna were up 3%.

Late Stage Trial

Moderna is among a host of pharma companies competing to find a vaccine for the coronavirus, which has already killed over a million people worldwide. A front-runner in the vaccine race, Moderna said last week it had completed enrollment in its late-stage trial, which includes 30,000 human participants. To date, it said that 25,650 participants had received the second dose of company’s two-dose vaccine candidate.

Actually, in this double-blind study, half of the participants got the vaccine and half get a placebo. Neither the patients or the doctors know who got what dose. Hence, the phrase double-blind.

And to make the study even more realistic, the participant pool is diverse. That’s key to discovering potential side effects that could affect different populations differently. The company claimed that 37% of people in the trial were from “diverse communities,” while 42% were at high risk of severe disease.

Meanwhile, the gender breakdown of participants is nearly equal, with 53% identifying as male and 47% as female. As for age, it appears that trial has focused on older patients, who are considered at higher risk than younger individuals. The vast majority of people in the trial were over the age of 25, while only 5% of participants were in the 18-to-24 age group.

Composition and Cost

Moderna has developed its vaccine in partnership with the National Institutes of Health. The drug contains genetic material called messenger RNA (mRNA). Scientists hope that the use of this genetic material will provoke the human immune system to fight the coronavirus.

Of course, such a drug does not come cheap. In August, Moderna said it was charging between $32 and $37 per dose of its vaccine, under cheaper “pandemic pricing.” (How’s that for a holiday season promo?)

Still, Moderna says it is in talks regarding a larger volume agreement that will decrease the price per dose. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has called for a future vaccine to be free for all Americans, while President Donald Trump supports making the vaccine free for people on Medicare or private health insurance.

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