Shares of Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA) soared 19% to an all-time high Wednesday after the clinical-stage biotech reported earnings. Revenues of $14.1 million from collaborations and grants fell short of the $17.4 million that analysts were expecting, but investors weren't all that interested in last quarter's numbers. What drew the lion's share of attention were new details about progress in the company's core vaccine franchise: Analysts on the conference call were riveted to news about two important pipeline candidates.

Top-of-mind for investors was Monday's announcement that the first shipment of its experimental mRNA vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, had been sent to researchers with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Analysts on the call peppered Moderna executives with questions about the path forward for the vaccine, called mRNA-1273, but the company was short on answers. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will be conducting the human trials for mRNA-1273, and the regulatory process for approving a vaccine in the face of an ongoing pandemic threat is simply unknown. For its part, Moderna is looking into how to scale up its manufacturing to meet the demand if its vaccine is proven effective soon.

Depiction of coronavirus cells.

Image source: Getty Images.

Also attracting attention was Moderna's update on mRNA-1647, its vaccine for congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV) and the most advanced mRNA-based vaccine candidate of the four that it has in human clinical trials. CMV is a leading cause of birth defects in the U.S., and Moderna estimates that its annual peak sales for the vaccine could be between $2 billion and $5 billion domestically. The company pulled up its estimate for the timing  of the first interim analysis of results from its phase 2 trial of mRNA-1647 to Q3 of this year, and described plans for a pivotal phase 3 trial to begin in 2021.

Moderna's initial public offering was the largest ever for a biotech when it debuted in December 2018. The company's ability to develop a vaccine candidate for SARS-CoV-2 so rapidly seems to have revived investor interest in this medical pioneer, which has built a platform for developing treatments based on messenger RNA -- an entirely new class of medicines.

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