Fierce JPM Week: Moderna could join top vaccine players by sales this year, CEO says

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Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said at Fierce JPM Week that the company's success in COVID-19 provides validation for its mRNA platform.(Wikimedia Commons)

When J.P. Morgan hosted its healthcare conference last year, Moderna was a clinical-stage biotech company with promising technology and big ambitions. What a difference a year makes.

Heading into 2021, the company has one of the world’s only authorized COVID-19 vaccines and it's already underway with deliveries in numerous countries. And when the year is said and done, Moderna might be among the top vaccine players by revenue, CEO Stéphane Bancel said in an interview for Fierce JPM Week.

To get there, the company will need to execute on manufacturing hundreds of millions—or potentially 1 billion—doses.

By advancing its COVID-19 vaccine program from preclinical research to an FDA emergency authorization in under a year, Moderna has clearly proven the merit of its mRNA program, Bancel said. The process provided “validation of a new class of medicine” that Moderna has been working on for nearly 10 years, he said.

Of course, not every mRNA vaccine program will work, he noted. But the company’s quick success in COVID-19 provides an “extremely important read-across” for the rest of the company’s portfolio. Moderna already has pipeline vaccines targeting cytomegalovirus, Zika, respiratory syncytial virus and more—and Bancel said the company soon plans to unveil new programs entering the clinic. On Monday, the company unveiled new programs in flu, HIV and Nipah virus.

Aside from vaccines, the company’s mRNA success shows that if you “have the right delivery system, you can get an effective drug.” Moderna plans to explore its mRNA technology in oncology, rare diseases, autoimmune conditions and more, he said.

RELATED: Moderna dials up low-end COVID-19 vaccine supply estimate, setting sights on 1B doses in 2021

In the meantime, the “worst-case scenario” is that Moderna is going to be a “very important vaccine company,” Bancel said. The biotech plans to make 600 million to 1 billion doses of its COVID-19 vaccine this year, and the rollout could place Moderna among the top vaccine players by revenue, Bancel said. Moderna has already secured $11.7 billion in advance purchase orders for its coronavirus vaccine and is negotiating more deals, Bancel said at his Monday JPM presentation. 

It’s “not impossible that it’s bigger than the entire revenue of one of the four big vaccine companies,” Bancel said, referring to Moderna's COVID-19 shot. The company “might be one of the top four, top three,” vaccine companies this year, he said. The global vaccine industry was worth $35 billion in 2019, Bancel said Monday.

Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal has predicted Moderna would earn nearly $11 billion on COVID-19 vaccine sales this year, trailing only Pfizer in the field. If the prediction bears out, Moderna should face no problem joining the ranks of the top vaccine players this year.

Moderna plans to invest proceeds back into the company to further scale up, Bancel said. Because Moderna is a “platform company,” it was never going to be a single-drug biotech, the CEO explained.

“Since day one we said it would be zero, because we [couldn't] get a product approved before we run out of cash—which of course was always a possibility—or it was going to be a lot of products,” he explained.

“Well, now it’s good we know the answer,” Bancel continued. “Moderna is going to be a company with a lot of products, and I think people are going to be quite surprised by the speed at which products go.”

RELATED: The $38B pie: Pfizer, Moderna COVID-19 vaccines set for lion's share of 2021 sales

Aside from platform validation, the pandemic has also brought lessons for the biotech CEO. Business travel will be different moving forward, he said, and Moderna will need to take a close look at how it can leverage talent regardless of geography.

Moderna has in the past chosen not to hire certain people because of “relocation challenges,” but the pandemic showed how effective remote work can be, Bancel said. For instance, the CEO hasn’t physically met some of the new hires at Moderna who are involved in the company's COVID-19 vaccine program.