On March 16, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) started a phase 1 clinical trial involving Moderna's (MRNA 2.69%) investigational SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, mRNA-1273. The trial is testing the vaccine's safety, its ability to trigger an immune response, and what at what doses recipients begin to display expected side effects. What it won't be attempting to discern is whether or not mRNA-1273 successfully prevents people from developing COVID-19. That comes later.

The NIH had initially planned on enrolling 45 volunteers in this trial, but the government agency decided to bring the total of participants up to 51. 

Moderna recently landed a grant of up to $483 million from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to help expedite the development of mRNA-1273. Per the terms of the agreement between the two entities, BARDA (a division of the Department of Health and Human Services) will fund the scale-up of the manufacturing of mRNA-1273 as well as subsequent clinical trials for the vaccine candidate. Moderna will increase its workforce to support these new developments; the company plans to hire as many as 150 new workers. 

Nurse filling up syringe with liquid from a glass vial.

Image Source: Getty Images.

"By investing now in our manufacturing process scale-up to enable large scale production for pandemic response, we believe that we 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 candidate is successful in the clinic," said CEO Stephane Bancel.

Moderna's shares gained about 17% in pre-market trading following this news. Its stock price is up by 139.4% year to date, whereas the S&P 500 is still down by more than 12%. Expect the biotech company's stock to climb even more if it keeps racing through the development milestones for its potential SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.