Moderna Soars After $483 Million Covid-19 Agreement With U.S.

The vaccine uses a novel RNA technology to stimulate the immune system. A small human safety study has been underway since March.

(Bloomberg) -- Moderna Inc. shares rose as much as 21% after the company said the U.S. government has agreed to pay as much as $483 million for the company to develop and test its Covid-19 vaccine now in an initial clinical trial.

Under the agreement, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, would fund development of the vaccine mRNA-1273 up through approval by the U.S. regulators, as well as efforts to scale up manufacturing, Moderna said in a press release.

Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine is one of the first to begin human trials. There are 70 vaccines in some stage of development now, the World Health Organization has said. Moderna said that if the trial is successful, it could reach final-stage testing by fall 2020.

Vaccines give broad parts of the population some level of immunity to a disease, and are considered crucial to ending the pandemic by creating widespread immunity to the virus. They take longer to develop, in part because they must be proven to be extremely safe since they’re given to well people.

Shares of the company were up 14% to $46.38 at 10:31 a.m. The earlier 21% gain was the company’s biggest intraday rise since March 17, the day after it was announced that human trials of the vaccine had started.

The vaccine uses a novel RNA technology to stimulate the immune system. A small human safety study has been underway since March. The first 45 patients have enrolled and the trial was recently expanded to add additional groups of older patients, Moderna said.

The company plans to hire as many as 150 new employees in the U.S. this year and to expand its manufacturing capacity to three shifts every day of the week, up from two shifts a day five days a week.

“This grant allows us to go as fast as we can,” said Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s chief executive officer, in an interview. Instead of waiting for results of its safety trial before proceeding with manufacturing scale-up, the company can spend money now to begin making vaccine doses for large-scale trials.

He said the company had not gotten any results yet from the ongoing safety trial.

The company said that by investing in its manufacturing to enable large-scale production for pandemic response, its believes it would be able to supply millions of doses per month in 2020 and, with further investments, tens of millions per month in 2021, if the vaccine is successful.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.