He estimated a timeline of “three to five years” for the new combined product, and likened the development of the life-saving jab to that of a smartphone.
“You don’t get the amazing camera, amazing everything the first time you get an iPhone, but you get a lot of things,” he said.
Bancel believes the Covid-19 pandemic that helped the company rack up tens of billions of dollars in revenue and generate business in more than 70 markets globally could end as soon as this year.
That doesn’t mean the virus is going anywhere, he noted.
“I think we are slowly moving — if not already in some countries — to a world where all the tools are available, and everybody can make their own decision based on their risk tolerance,” he explained, adding that he believed more people would choose to “live with the virus,” much like they do with the flu.
The approach, however, will continue to vary greatly, such as among people who are immunocompromised or in countries like Japan, where it was common to wear masks even before the pandemic, he acknowledged.
And “there’s always a 20% probability that we get a very nasty variant that drives very severe disease that has a lot of mutation,” he added.
The next big thing
Still, Moderna is determined not to become a one-hit wonder.
The company has more than 40 products in development, and is planning for life well beyond Covid-19, said Bancel.
In addition to an updated annual booster, it is continuing to develop a personalized cancer vaccine, for which new clinical data will drop later this year. Bancel said the product could go up for approval in roughly two years if all goes well.
And Moderna is looking to catch up to competitors overseas.
Earlier this year, it announced a push into 10 Asian and European markets, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Denmark and the Netherlands. The investments will cost “dozens of millions of dollars” and include hundreds of new hires, said Bancel.
Bancel said the new facilities would be crucial to helping adapt its products to different strains of illnesses that develop around the world.
As the world first dealt with the onset of Covid-19, Moderna was one of the handful of large manufacturers that rushed to get their vaccines ready, reducing timelines from years to months. Its stock rallied 434% in 2020 and 143% last year.
The reversal led to huge losses for the company, which had bought new machines to fulfill those orders, and more importantly, resulted in Covid vaccines being thrown in the trash, Bancel said.
“We ended up destroying the vaccines,” he said. “It was really heartbreaking.”
The CEO said he wasn’t worried about that kind of slide in demand being repeated in richer countries, in part because governments had already shown commitments to use vaccines later this year to avoid reintroducing economic lockdowns.
But “on the low-income country side, yes, I am worried,” he said.