One of the companies leading the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine is accelerating what had already been an ambitious timeline. On Thursday, Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA) 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.