What happened

Shares of Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA) are on the move following the clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company's Research & Development Day presentation. Investors pleased with the path it's taking pushed its stock as much as 16% higher in Thursday morning trading, though those gains had moderated back to about 3% by around 2 p.m. 

So what 

Moderna's messenger RNA (mRNA) platform has produced lots of new drug candidates ready for human studies, but we haven't seen any meaningful clinical data from them yet. At Thursday's R&D Day presentation, the company announced results from two phase 1 clinical trials that were as good as investors can hope for at this early stage.

Stock traders looking up at a wall of monitors.

Image source: Getty Images.

Moderna's whole game-plan revolves around getting cells to produce beneficial proteins, a result that hadn't been accomplished using this technology in humans before. Investors breathed a sigh of relief thanks to dose-dependent responses observed after treatment with  mRNA-1944, an experimental chikungunya virus vaccine.

The study infused 22 healthy adults with three ascending doses of mRNA1944, and the number of chikungunya antibodies produced rose in line with the dosages administered. There was one case of a rapid-heartbeat reaction following an infusion with the largest dose. Luckily, even the lowest dose produced enough antibodies that it can probably protect against infection.

A phase 1 trial with Moderna's cytomegalovirus (CMV) vaccine mRNA-1647 will progress to phase 2 following an interim assessment of the first three out of four ascending doses to be tested. Moderna measured CMV antibodies in study participants at levels that should be high enough to block infection.

Now what

If you're thinking now's a good time to buy this risky biotech, you might want to think again. Experimental vaccines that make it all the way into clinical-stage testing almost always lead to dramatic antibody production gains in their first clinical trials. Unfortunately, it is very often that case that vaccine developers run into serious trouble in attempting to make the leap from proving that a treatment can increase antibodies to being able to demonstrate to regulators that it provides measurable protective benefits, because vaccine math is really hard

It's exciting to see that this company is able to get cells to produce, in theory, any protein it wants. While the vaccination route might not be the best path forward for it (or for any young biotech), investors ought to keep an eye on Moderna's cancer-fighting candidates.