Moderna’s “stunning” second vaccine

America’s Moderna has come up with a vaccine even more promising than last week’s offering from Pfizer and BioNTech. Matthew Partridge reports

Scientist doing science
Moderna won’t have to share its profits with a partner
(Image credit: © Getty Images)

Biotechnology firm Moderna is celebrating after “tremendously exciting” preliminary results from late-stage trials of its Covid-19 vaccine, says Sarah Knapton in The Daily Telegraph. So far, only five people in the trial who received the jab have contracted the virus, compared with 90 who received a placebo, implying that it is nearly 95%-effective in preventing infection. That would make it “even more effective than either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Russian jab”. The trials suggest that it can even protect “the elderly and vulnerable who are most at risk”, with no one who has received the jab developing severe Covid-19 yet (compared with 11 from the placebo group).

Moderna’s success is “stunning”, says Robert Cyran on Breakingviews. Not only is it highly effective, but side effects are also “moderate”. More importantly, it can be stored in a conventional freezer for six months, and in a fridge up to 30 days, making it much easier to distribute than Pfizer’s vaccine, which must be “kept far colder, complicating distribution”. This is particularly good news for emerging markets, who not only lack expensive storage facilities, but will also benefit from the fact that richer countries have ordered far more doses than they need. The US alone ordered 600 million doses.

Vindication after a volatile year

This is “great news”, says Lex in the Financial Times. The data also brings “vindication for one of the sector’s most divisive companies”. After a “record-setting” initial public offering in December 2018, its shares spent much of 2019 trading below its opening price. However, the coronavirus pandemic has put its work on messenger-RNA, which prompts the body to make its own medicine, “back into focus”. Indeed, there are hopes that the Covid-19 jab may represent “proof of concept” for other Moderna treatments, including a personalised cancer vaccine. So, it’s no surprise that its shares have risen by 390% this year. Thanks to its latest success, Moderna should easily find enough money to develop its other vaccines, says Charley Grant in The Wall Street Journal. Its $40bn valuation means it can raise funds by selling shares and it also has $4bn in cash on the books. Selling even 500 million doses of vaccine at $200 each would translate into $10bn, which should come with “attractive profit margins” as Moderna’s decision not to seek a partner means that “it won’t have to share those profits”.

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AstraZeneca should also be happy, says Nils Pratley in the Guardian. Moderna’s trial suggests that its own jab, developed in conjunction with Oxford University, will report similarly good news next month. What’s more, it stands to benefit from the fact that it “made a very good bet” when it invested in Moderna as long ago as 2013, back when it was a “three-year-old biotechnology tiddler”. As a result, its 7.6% stake, which cost just $380m, is now worth $2.9bn – a “very decent” return.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri