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Moderna Accelerates Its COVID-19 Vaccine Development Plan

By Cory Renauer - Updated May 7, 2020 at 1:59PM

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The clinical stage biotech's now expects to start phase 3 trials of its SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate early this summer, rather than in the fall.

One of the companies leading the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine is accelerating what had already been an ambitious timeline. On Thursday, Moderna (MRNA -1.09%) said mid-stage clinical trials for its SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273, would begin  shortly, with late-stage studies slated to start in the early summer.

Previously, the company had expected mid-stage would begin some time before the end of June, and late-stage trials weren't expected to start until this fall.

COVID-19 blood sample

Image source: Getty Images.

Making progress 

Moderna reported first-quarter earnings Thursday, and given that it's a clinical-stage drugmaker without products to sell, it didn't have many financial details to share. Operations cost it $131 million during the quarter, which left the company with around $1.7 billion in cash, cash equivalents, and investments at the end of March.

The rapid development of mRNA-1273 will raise the company's  operating expenses significantly through the end of 2020. The FDA recently gave the green light a 600-participant mid-stage study of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate. Moderna's still finalizing the protocol for the phase 3 trial.

More than mRNA-1273 

A SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate that could earn approval in 2021 isn't the only clinical-stage program Moderna's pushing forward at top speed. The company's messenger RNA-based platform has produced an impressive 13 candidates now in clinical studies with more than 1,900 total participants.

Unlike traditional vaccines that expose the immune system to portions of a pathogen, mRNA-1273 is essentially a genetic blueprint that should lead cells to produce only the distinctive spike proteins found on the surface of SARS-CoV-2. Moderna isn't the only vaccine developer trying to tackle COVID-19 with mRNA, but based on its new timeline, it could be the first to succeed.

Cory Renauer has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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