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'I don't think you'll see everyone vaccinated until late next year if we're lucky': Ginkgo Bioworks CEO

Ginkgo Bioworks Co-founder & CEO Dr. Jason Kelly joins Yahoo Finance's Kristin Myers to discuss the latest on the coronavirus vaccine front, as Moderna says its vaccine is 94.5% effective.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Moderna's vaccine, if I can speak today-- Moderna's vaccine was created with the help of biotech company Gingko Bioworks. We're joined now by the CEO and Co-founder Dr. Jason Kelly.

So, Doctor, I'm hoping you can kind of do the impossible. This is TV. We, unfortunately, don't have a full hour. I know this is all very complicated, but I'm hoping you can simply explain Ginkgo's role in the production of the Moderna vaccine.

JASON KELLY: Yeah, so I'll give you a little primer on nucleic-acid vaccines real quick, right? So these vaccines, both Moderna and Pfizer's, are RNA vaccines, right? And that means that you're getting RNA delivered to your cells. They're going to read that RNA, produce a protein. It's going to set off your immune system.

And what's great is you can develop those really fast, the fastest vaccines that have ever been developed in history. What's tough about it is they're a brand-new class of vaccines. We've never manufactured these things, certainly not at the billions of vaccine doses scale we're going to need.

And so what Ginkgo has been doing, we had a chance to work with Moderna starting back in April and also working with a couple other nucleic-acid-vaccine companies to optimize that manufacturing process. How do you make it so that you get more doses per tank and also so that you don't run out of any of the critical reagents that you would need in that process? And that's where really we've been focused on. Now that these vaccines work, how do you optimize the manufacturing process to get as many as you can quickly?

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, so now that everyone has that very quick biology lesson, wondering now, we have more than 300 people in this country, and we now have this Moderna vaccine candidate. We had the Pfizer vaccine candidate. What do you see as some of the biggest challenges-- I know you were talking about essentially creating this vaccine. What do you see as some of the biggest challenges to roll it out to over 300 million people?

JASON KELLY: Yeah, I mean, I think figuring out the manufacturing is going to be a big piece of this. So there's a couple steps. So in the first step, you basically are growing up, almost like in a brewery, cells that produce a piece of DNA. And then you're going to, in a lab, add enzymes to that that turn that DNA into RNA.

Well, both of those steps, we need to make sure we have enough enzymes, and we need to make sure we get as many doses out per tank. And, I mean, what's exciting about this from my standpoint is I think we're in a very dark tunnel, but there is the first light at the end of it now with these two vaccines. And the sooner we get there, the sooner the whole economy turns back on in the United States and internationally.

We could not invest enough in speeding the manufacturer of these products now that we know they're safe and efficacious. It should be-- and people have been already on a crash program. We should double or triple that coming up, and I think you will see that with the United States and other governments.

KRISTIN MYERS: So realistically if you had to put a timeline on it, how long before everyone, at least in the United States, is inoculated?

JASON KELLY: Yeah, I mean, I think Dr. Fauci was suggesting, you know, April is sort of an optimistic target where this would be widely available. I don't think you'll see everyone vaccinated until, you know, late next year if we're lucky.

I think it's also worth keeping in mind our economy is also dependent on the economies of the world, right? And so there's nearly 8 billion people that are going to need this vaccine. And these RNA vaccines I think are a good opportunity to really build that level of scale. So hopefully we also see that international investment at the same time and we get out of this thing collectively.

KRISTIN MYERS: I'm really glad you mentioned that because when I was reading about this, what seemed the most interesting to me is essentially how differently the United States is doing it when it comes to coronavirus vaccine compared to the way we traditionally make vaccines, the way we traditionally roll out treatments for diseases, other infectious diseases or things like cancer.

So I want to put this to you. Do you see the way that we approach either how fast or even how we make vaccines in the future, treatments in the future, do you see that changing in a post-pandemic world?

JASON KELLY: Yeah, I'm glad you asked that. This is the new normal as far as I'm concerned, I think. This is how we should treat and respond to an emerging infectious disease. I think these nucleic-acid vaccines can be developed fast.

I think you will see global buildout of manufacturing, which means we can quickly ramp them if we need them in a future pandemic or even a regional outbreak. And we've now seen how fast you can get through a clinical trial when the pressure's on.

And so I do think there is a real opportunity for us to say this is just how we respond to infectious disease in the future because, frankly, if you look internationally, the impact of infectious disease is still just overwhelming. And I think the tools that are being built to respond to COVID are going to be redeployed, and nucleic-acid vaccines are one of the best tools in that toolbox.

KRISTIN MYERS: So to that end, do you perhaps think that we'll be starting to see and hear headlines going forward like, hey, we have a cure for cancer? You know, we were able to come up with it very quickly--

JASON KELLY: I don't know about that.

KRISTIN MYERS: [INAUDIBLE] these tools. I'm just wondering, like, how optimistic should we be in this post-pandemic world that the tools we've been given because of the coronavirus vaccine, or the carnivorous pandemic, really, are enabling us to really tackle a lot of diseases and viruses that so far we've been lagging behind in because of all of the layers of bureaucracy?

JASON KELLY: I think you will see it for vaccines in particular. I do think this is going to be a sea change in how those are developed. I think that once the manufacturing is online at large scale for nucleic-acid vaccines, I think they'll be the new standard for many types of future diseases that can be treated with vaccines. That's not every disease, right? That's probably not cancer, but it is a lot of your infectiousness diseases.

And so I-- and frankly, this is a chance-- we should have done this a long time ago, right? You know, there's more virus protection on your email inbox than you, right, at the moment. You know, our-- how we've approached infectious disease systematically, I think we could have done a better job. And we're sort of facing the consequences of that lack of investment as we've been knocked on our butts by this pandemic. But I think we will build now such that we have that infrastructure. And it will be redeployed, I think, to get infectious disease under control worldwide post-pandemic.