Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel speaks with Yahoo Finance’s Anjalee Khemlani about earnings, COVID-19 vaccine demand, the biotech company’s pipeline, and monkeypox vaccine development.
AKIKO FUJITA: Shares of Moderna seeing a big pop on the back of their quarterly results. That stock is up more than 15%. The pharma and biotech group topped estimates in its latest quarter with revenue getting a boost primarily because of increased product sales from its COVID-19 vaccine.
Let's bring in Yahoo Finance's Anjalee Khemlani with more on her conversation with the CEO of Moderna. It certainly feels like the demand is kind of shifting. But I guess, you know, investors certainly liking what they see.
ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Definitely. There's still a lot of promise for the platform itself, the company has talked about, especially ex-US efforts. And it seems like, actually, a lot of their demand is coming from Europe and Asia, rather than the US. So that's where the focus is right now, as well as looking at new and develop-- emerging diseases, monkeypox among them. So just listen to what CEO Stéphane Bancel had to say about all that.
STÉPHANE BANCEL: I mean, what I'm seeing is that governments have a lot of confidence in the Moderna technology and vaccine. We are very happy what the first generation of vaccine has done. We have seen the clinical data on the new generation of vaccine, for this, the product is also very strong.
And so we are seeing very strong demand across the board. And several customers have actually upped their purchase orders in the last few weeks. I anticipate a few more coming as well. So I think a strong momentum as we go into the fall.
And I expect Q4 to be even stronger than Q3. Because as you can imagine in July or August, people are waiting for the new version. So I think it's gonna be earlier, kind of late August and September, and then massive ramp up into Q4.
ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Yeah, you said previously that you thought the second half of the year was going to be stronger, I think, anticipating those boosters. But we also heard you say earlier this year, that you thought we might get to an endemic stage by this half of the year. Do you still think that? Or do you think we're in for another ride?
STÉPHANE BANCEL: So I still think that the best case scenario, which we give it around 70% probability, is the move into endemic where as people get infected, because of, of course, vaccination and infection, they basically have mild disease, like a cold.
We still need to be worried about people that are at high risk, like the elderly and people who, of course, have very high comorbidity factors. The need to boost them is very critical to keep them out of hospital, and to keep the economies open, and all of us having a normal life, like we had during 2019.
And that's what I think is important. But I think we have all the tools now. You know, people with the high risk can mask when they are indoor. There's a lot of testing available. Very good, you know, vaccine boosters, like Moderna, available. And also treatment, including antibodies. So I think we all will choose to live in a normal way. It's just that if you are at high risk, you need to be more careful and manage accordingly.
ANJALEE KHEMLANI: So you don't think that the worst case scenario is still that we could get a more virulent variant.
STÉPHANE BANCEL: So this is the 30% scenario of why it is possible. I don't it's the best case scenario. It is possible. But it's impossible to know from a science standpoint, is it in a week? Is it in three months? Or is it in two years? That would be a more virulent strain. As you know, in the flu world, you have from time to time a really bad winter.
ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Sure
STÉPHANE BANCEL: So we're gonna see that with COVID. But of course, it's unfortunately, impossible to know when this might happen because it's biology.
ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Well, what about the formulation of the vaccines. You know, you're looking at different formulas that are variant-specific. But I know, Moderna participated in the White House summit focused on second generation vaccines that are going to target the virus differently. So have you started to think about that and what the competition in the market is going to look like as a result?
STÉPHANE BANCEL: Oh, yes, we are investing in a lot of new technologies going at-- looking at different biology, so different things that the vaccine will target. We're looking at how do we extend the shelf life of a product that we make it storable in the fridge versus a freezer. We're working on technology early in the labs on how do you potentially go outside of using a needle, using other ways to get into the human body.
So we're looking at a lot of technologies. As you know, we are a [INAUDIBLE] player. We have, you know, a very strong scientific team. We have a very strong cash balance. You know, just look at the R&D investment, they increased 70%, 7-0, Q2 this year versus Q2 last year. And so you see that this company is very science-driven and there's a lot of appetite to build a better version of its own product.
ANJALEE KHEMLANI: What about the, in general, focus on other, you know, outbreaks that we're seeing right now. We know that monkeypox is an issue, polio as well. With mRNA being so quick to formula, on one hand, really high efficacy as we saw with COVID. But on the other hand, a concern has been waning immunity pretty quickly. So have you thought about that and how you might either change or adapt as needed to make sure that that's not an issue in the future?
STÉPHANE BANCEL: So [INAUDIBLE] technology to make it better, as I described earlier. But also we should not forget that those viruses evolve very quickly in COVID. And look at flu. When you have flu shot every year, that's a very old technology. That's recombinant. It's a 50-year-old technology. That is not linked to the recombinant technology, it's linked to a virus.
So I think it's the same thing with COVID. I do not believe it is linked to the mRNA. I really think it is linked to the virus evolving and basically you have a new variant getting in your body as you get a new infection.
So we are working, indeed, on a lot of those diseases. On monkeypox, we are working on it. We don't have the urgency that we had when COVID happened, because as you know, there's already a vaccine on the market and this is not an airborne virus. So you know, with COVID, like with flu, you always have that risk of getting a pandemic.
I'm not aware of any scientist who believe we can get kind of pandemic, like COVID, with monkeypox. And so we are working on it in preclinical settings to make sure we have a very strong and broad vaccine before we take it into the clinic.
ANJALEE KHEMLANI: So as you can hear, a lot to cover there. But really, it seems like strong outlook for the company, especially looking into Q4 and next year.
AKIKO FUJITA: Specifically on monkeypox, we've now had a number of states-- Illinois, New York, California-- all declare a state of emergency. And yet, those who are looking to get the vaccine, don't have access to it. Why is that pool so limited?
ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Multiple factors. But let's remember that the monkeypox vaccine is not actually a monkeypox vaccine. It's a smallpox vaccine that is being used for monkeypox because it's part of the same family. And we know that smallpox was eradicated back in the 1980s or considered eradicated.
And so even though the US government did technically work on building up a vaccine stash, right? That's why we have the vaccines in the national stockpile. They didn't quite have enough. They didn't quite have-- there are some doses that have expired at this point. So the amount that they even stocked up was limited.
And the number of companies that had been developing them for some time, they known to-- they've been known to have some serious side effects. And so that, over time, they worked on a formulation that could really have less side effects and be effective. And so that's where we are right now with this Bavarian Nordic vaccine.
But looking forward, that's the reason why a company, like Moderna, is looking at the potential. But they're waiting on the regulatory authorities to decide-- on the US to decide whether or not this is, you know, a really serious outbreak. To his point there, there's no urgency in the same way there is for COVID.
AKIKO FUJITA: And can they ramp up in the same way, though?
ANJALEE KHEMLANI: That's what they're saying, that they have the ability to scale.