Moderna, hoping to serve an ace with its new booster, taps Billie Jean King for its US Open campaign

As Moderna is gearing up to run a new COVID booster campaign this year in the U.S., it has scored tennis legend Billie Jean King as part of its U.S. Open sponsorship.

The biotech is specifically looking to boost awareness of mRNA technology in general, with no specific promotional branded marketing attached. But the campaign does note Moderna's work on COVID vaccines and in other areas such as how mRNA may help with cancer. It also comes just weeks before the FDA is expected to allow new boosters specific to the omicron variant to be rolled out in the U.S.

Tagging King in its tweet about the campaign this week, Moderna’s official corporate account said: “@BillieJeanKing changed tennis and paved the way for athletes by creating a new standard of equity in sports. We believe that challenging convention is critical to changing the world, and we are proud to partner with @BillieJeanKing as we kick off our engagement at the @usopen.” King became the first president of the Women's Tennis Association back in 1974 and headed up the first professional women's tour, the Virginia Slims.

Moderna has also created a #ChangeMakers hashtag that runs with an accompanying 30-second video. The video has a dramatic violin overture and shows an old TV sitting on a tennis court playing clips of King matches.

It then quickly flips to a full-screen version of King winning a point in a 1970s match, with Moderna’s text saying: “She changed tennis. She changed the way women get paid. She changed history.”

We then flip again, to King today, sitting courtside and saying directly to camera: “Be ahead of your time. That’s how you transform the world.” It ends with a quote saying simply: “Here’s to the change makers.”

This is a clear message about Moderna itself, which identifies as a “change maker” by being one of the first companies in the world to use mRNA technology in vaccines.

Moderna's campaign comes several weeks after the U.S. Tennis Association signed a one-year sponsorship deal with the mRNA biotech for this year’s U.S. Open tennis championships, which kicks off Friday, Aug. 29. Moderna will also get signage space at Arthur Ashe Stadium and aims to spread the message about its mRNA work.

Moderna just this week finished its submission to the FDA for a new emergency use authorization for its tweaked COVID vaccine, mRNA-1273.222. Unlike its original COVID vaccine, which was authorized in late 2020, the new shot targets subvariants of the dominate omicron variant, namely BA.4 and BA.5.

There is no official timeline for when the FDA is expected to finish off its review for the vaccine, but Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., the top vaccine regulator for the FDA, told The New York Times this week that his team “was close to authorizing updated doses” such as Moderna’s and from its rival Pfizer, which is also seeking authorization for an omicron-specific booster.

The use of mRNA as a new technology, which was still relatively in its infancy in early 2020, has not been welcome by all. Misinformation and fears over mRNA use in vaccines caused some people to put off getting vaccinated.

As the booster campaign will likely kick off in the coming weeks or months, Moderna knows that the biggest issue will be a general reluctance to get the booster, rather than its capacity to produce it. The U.S Open sponsorship should help here and will also go some way to boost its own credentials outside of just COVID vaccines, given that its mRNA tech has the potential for use in a range of infectious disease and potentially in oncology and other diseases as well.