Moderna's lead in the coronavirus vaccine race is slipping. Here's how pharma giants like Pfizer are threatening the biotech's frontrunner status. (MRNA, PFE)
Competitors are catching up to Moderna, which for months has been leading the race for a coronavirus vaccine. The New York pharma giant Pfizer on Wednesday released early human results for its vaccine candidate. Pfizer is using the same vaccine technology, called messenger RNA, as Moderna. Pfizer, a $190 billion drugmaker, is also planning to start late-stage efficacy trials this month, the same development timeline as Moderna. The stock market seemed to reflect these changing dynamics Wednesday. Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech saw their share prices increase by 5% and 7% respectively, while Moderna's stock dipped 6%. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Throughout the first months of the coronavirus outbreak, Moderna stood alone. From the beginning of the sprint to develop a vaccine, the upstart Massachusetts biotech was a leader. On January 23, it announced its plans to create a vaccine alongside US National Institutes of Health researchers. Moderna was the first company to start testing an experimental shot in humans in March and the first to detail human results a couple months later. It cemented its frontrunner status by building a vaccine in record time, using an unproven yet promising technology called messenger RNA. Investors pushed its stock to records. Despite having no federally approved drugs or vaccines, Moderna climbed to a $23 billion valuation, and its stock has tripled since the start of the year. Read more: The untold story of Moderna as the biotech's coronavirus vaccine faces a test that could make it one of the most consequential startups of all time But the landscape has changed dramatically six months into the outbreak. There are roughly 150 coronavirus vaccine programs, with 17 candidates in human testing, according to the World Health Organization. And Moderna isn't alone with its genetic platform. Four other programs already in human testing are also using mRNA vaccines. On Wednesday, Pfizer showed how intense the race for a vaccine has gotten, detailing early human results from its own vaccine candidate. The New York pharma giant announced its research plans the same week that Moderna dosed the first volunteers in March. But with the resources of a $190 billion pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer has caught up to Moderna. The stock market seemed to reflect these changing dynamics on Wednesday. Pfizer and BioNTech saw their share prices increase by 4% and 2.4% respectively, while Moderna's stock declined 5%. Pfizer and Moderna have equally fast development timelines for vaccines using the same technology
Pfizer partnered with BioNTech, a German biotech specializing in mRNA, to develop a vaccine that uses the same technology as Moderna's. The timelines for the two vaccine programs are now basically the same. Both Pfizer and Moderna aim to start late-stage trials this month, testing the vaccines in thousands of volunteers to see whether they work. If they do, the companies have said their vaccines could be ready this fall for emergency use in limited quantities. Read more: A leading potential coronavirus vaccine just started human trials in the US. The top scientist at Pfizer told us it could be ready for emergency use this fall. In some ways, Pfizer is ahead of the buzzy biotech. Moderna gave a brief description of its data in May, opening it to criticism of "publication by press release." While CEO Stephane Bancel has said the data would soon be published by the NIH, that has yet to happen. Pfizer's release was accompanied by a scientific paper, albeit a version that has yet to be reviewed by other scientists or published in a journal. Given the limited data disclosed, Pfizer's vaccine could be "potentially more potent" than Moderna's vaccine candidate, SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges said in a Wednesday note to investors. He cautioned that it's difficult to make conclusions yet, given the preliminary nature of the early data. Jefferies analyst Michael Yee also said Pfizer's results "are consistent and at least as good (or higher)" than Moderna's description. Read more: Pfizer teamed up with a tiny biotech to make a coronavirus vaccine, and we just got our first look at some promising but early data To be clear, it's far from certain that either vaccine will work. These early-stage tests are designed to measure whether the vaccines are safe for people to take, and whether they generate a response from the body's immune system. Vaccines require massive trials to determine if they can actually prevent infections or disease. To be sure, company executives in the vaccine race have emphasized that more than one vaccine will be needed. Any successful effort is expected to face global demand that will outstrip supply. AstraZeneca, another pharma giant that dwarfs Moderna, is also working on a vaccine and aims to have one ready this fall for emergency use. Could there be a new frontrunner in the vaccine sprint? The next challenge facing Pfizer and Moderna is enrolling up to 30,000 people in massive clinical trials starting this month. To quickly sign up that many volunteers, the companies will need to work with dozens, if not hundreds, of trial sites around the world In that space, Pfizer seems to have an edge. As one of the largest vaccine makers in the world, carrying out the logistics of a large, global trial is nothing new for Pfizer. On a Wednesday call with investors, Pfizer's head of vaccine R&D, Kathrin Jansen, estimated it could take as little as four weeks to fully enroll a late-stage trial. Moderna, on the other hand, is going into uncharted waters. Since its founding in 2010, the company has yet to move any medicine into a Phase 3 study. Both companies are working with the US government as part of Operation Warp Speed, an initiative to have 300 million doses of a safe and effective vaccine by January 2021. It remains unclear how much support this program will bring to late-stage trials. Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Drugmakers are developing coronavirus vaccines in record time — but it will still be months before one is available
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The US just authorized Moderna's coronavirus vaccine, making millions more doses available to help curb the pandemic
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