He estimated a timeline of “three to five years” for the new combo product and compared the development of the life-saving jab to that of a smartphone.
“You don’t get the amazing camera, amazing everything when you first get an iPhone, but you do get a lot of stuff,” he said.
Bancel believes the Covid-19 pandemic that has helped the company rack up tens of billions of dollars in revenue and generate business in more than 70 markets globally could be over as soon as this year.
That doesn’t mean the virus is going anywhere, he noted.
“I think we are moving slowly, if not already in some countries, towards a world where all the tools are available and everyone can make their own decisions based on their tolerance for risk,” he explained, adding that he believed more people would choose to “live with the virus”, as they do with the flu.
The approach, however, will continue to vary widely, such as among immunocompromised people or in countries like Japan, where wearing masks was common even before the pandemic, he acknowledged.
And “there is always a 20% chance that we will get a very nasty variant that causes a very serious disease that has a lot of mutations,” he added.
the next big thing
Still, Moderna is determined not to become a one-hit wonder.
The company has more than 40 products in development and is planning for life well beyond Covid-19, Bancel said.
In addition to an updated annual booster, it continues to develop a personalized cancer vaccine, for which new clinical data will be released later this year. Bancel said the product could be approved in about two years if all goes well.
And Moderna is looking to catch up with competitors abroad.
Earlier this year, it announced a push across 10 Asian and European markets, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Denmark and the Netherlands. The investments will cost “dozens of millions of dollars” and will include hundreds of new hires, Bancel said.
Bancel said the new facility would be crucial in helping to tailor its products to the different strains of disease developing around the world.
When the world first faced the onset of Covid-19, Moderna was one of the few big manufacturers to rush to prepare its vaccines, cutting lead times from years to months. Its shares are up 434% in 2020 and 143% last year.
The reversal caused huge losses for the company, which had bought new machines to fill those orders and, more importantly, caused Covid vaccines to be thrown away, Bancel said.
“We ended up destroying vaccines,” he said. “It was really heartbreaking.”
The CEO said he was not concerned that such a drop in demand would be repeated in richer countries, in part because governments had already shown commitments to use vaccines by the end of this year to prevent the reintroduction of economic lockdowns.
But “on the low-income country side, yes, I am concerned,” he said.
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