Moderna Inc. said Thursday it reached an agreement to receive as much as $483 million in funding from a federal agency to accelerate the development and production of its closely watched experimental vaccine against the new Coronavirus.
The federal funding will cover advancing the vaccine through a series of studies to potential approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The Cambridge, Mass., company also said it plans to hire up to 150 new employees to scale up manufacturing of doses for the studies, and to develop processes for large-scale manufacturing if the studies succeed.
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.
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.
“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.