The biotech company Moderna’s effort to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus that has sickened more than 30,000 people world-wide is proceeding with “no glitches so far,” an official with the National Institutes of Health said at a news conference on Friday afternoon.
Shares of Moderna (ticker: MRNA) shot up more than 10% in the minutes after the statement, though news did not change the timeline that the official, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease director Anthony Fauci, had previously laid out for the vaccine to be ready for testing in humans.
“I’m happy to tell you that there have been no glitches so far,” Fauci said Friday afternoon at a press briefing by the president’s Coronavirus Task Force. Two weeks ago, on Jan. 21, Fauci said that it would take around three months for a Moderna vaccine for the virus to enter a first-in-human Phase 1 study. Now, the forecast remains the same.
“We will be in people in a Phase 1 trial within the next 2.5 months,” Fauci said.
Moderna is designing the vaccine using its own messenger RNA-based technology. The NIAID has signed on to test the drug. A nongovernmental group called the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations is providing funding.
It’s not clear how the vaccine could earn money for Moderna. “I don’t know today what the revenue model is,” the company’s chief medical officer, Tal Zaks, told Barron’s on Dec. 29. “In the context of a pandemic, obviously it doesn’t fit the normal ways of doing business.”
That hasn’t kept investors from buying Moderna stock on news of the vaccine’s progress. Moderna shares were trading at $23.20 shortly before the market close on Friday, up 16.7% on the day.
During the press conference on Friday, Fauci said that the project had so far succeeded in designing the mRNA molecule that would make up the vaccine.
He seemed also to say that the next steps would be for the vaccine to be tested in mice, and for Moderna to begin producing the vaccine in a form suitable for use in humans, though his meaning was not entirely clear.
“The vaccine is currently undergoing early stage preclinical development in the laboratory,” NIAID told Barron’s in response to a request for clarification.
Also at the press conference, Fauci noted that remdesivir, an experimental antiviral drug developed by Gilead Science (GILD), was being tested in a randomized, controlled trial in China.
“Pretty soon, we are going to get a definitive answer” about the effectiveness of the Gilead drug, Fauci said.
Shares of Gilead were up 1.3% on Friday.
Write to Josh Nathan-Kazis at [email protected]