Moderna maps 2,000 new jobs as mRNA prospects for cancer, RSV heat up

Amid a torrent of biotech layoffs, Massachusetts mRNA star Moderna is staffing up big time, and the company’s new chief technical operations officer figures this is just the start.

Eyeing potential launches beyond its COVID-19 vaccine Spikevax, Moderna will hire roughly 2,000 new employees in 2023, the company recently told Fierce Pharma. That should bring the biotech’s total headcount to around 6,000 before the year is out, Jerh Collins, Ph.D., Moderna’s chief technical operations and quality officer, said in an interview.

Recent clinical wins for Moderna's mRNA candidates in melanoma and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) show "that the pipeline is working,” Collins stressed. The next question for Moderna, then, is “how do we accelerate?”

The company is wasting no time in growing its workforce, the executive said. The company has already started to reach out to potential employees, he noted.

Many of the new jobs will be located in Moderna’s home state of Massachusetts, Collins explained. Around half of the company’s planned 2,000 new hires will fill roles in technical development and chemistry, manufacturing and controls.

More specifically, Moderna is hunting down people with expertise in areas like quality control and assurance, plus biological microbiology and digitization, particularly in a production setting.

The hiring push comes as Moderna quests to digitize its manufacturing operations, which could take the form of digital control systems or even robotics, Collins pointed out. Moderna is currently weighing the potential of machines to chip in on portions of the production process such as fill and finish, he said.

Moderna’s staff-up offers a promising narrative in the face of countless layoffs over the past year—both in biotech and across industries writ large.

Collins notes that Moderna is “cognizant” of the situation.

“We’re mapping where it’s happening to see if these are skills we can tap into,” he explained.

While Moderna is certainly enthusiastic about its near-term mRNA prospects, the company’s COVID-19 business is going through an odd patch, which has afflicted pandemic players of all stripes.

In its third-quarter earnings report, Moderna had slashed its sales estimate for Spikevax to a range of between $18 billion and $19 billion. The adjustment accounted for delayed shipments of vaccines to Europe in response to declining demand. The company said it had deferred between $2 billion and $3 billion in vaccine sales to 2023.

For all of 2022, meanwhile, Moderna’s COVID shot Spikevax generated approximately $18.4 billion in revenue. The number was short of the company’s original estimate of $22 billion at the start of the year but did exceed its 2021 sales of $17.7 billion.

At this year’s J.P. Morgan healthcare conference, Moderna projected 2023 sales of the vaccine to reach at least $5 billion.