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How Moderna Went From Coronavirus Sequence to a Phase-1-Ready Vaccine Candidate in 42 Days

By Brian Orelli, PhD – Aug 5, 2020 at 8:02PM

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The biotech got a little help from Amazon's AWS.

Moderna (MRNA 0.15%), one of the leaders in the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine, was able to take the initial coronavirus sequence and get a vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273, ready for a phase 1 clinical trial in just 42 days.

The biotech's use of Amazon Web Services (AWS), the cloud-based computing service run by Amazon (AMZN -1.57%), enabled this quick development. Moderna runs its Drug Design Studio on AWS, which allows it to design its mRNA drug candidates quickly.

The potential drugs are further analyzed using machine learning to optimize the sequence for manufacturing. And with Moderna's manufacturing systems running on AWS, converting the vaccine sequences to physical mRNA vaccine candidates ready for preclinical testing was a straightforward process.

Gloved hands administering an injection to a shoulder.

Image source: Getty Images.

Of course, Amazon can't take all the credit. While AWS undoubtedly helped speed up the process, Moderna's mRNA platform played a big role in the biotech developing a candidate so quickly. Protein-based vaccines are lagging behind mRNA vaccine-makers, such as Moderna and BioNTech (BNTX 0.96%), simply because protein-based drugs take longer to design and optimize -- especially at the manufacturing step -- as the proteins have more complex structures than mRNAs.

Rather than dealing with the challenging protein step, Moderna and BioNTech let the patients' cells translate the mRNA sequence into a protein that can elicit an immune reaction just like injecting the protein directly into the patient.

If mRNA-1273 passes its ongoing phase 3 clinical trial, AWS could come into play again. As Moderna ramps up manufacturing capabilities, AWS will allow for a quick technology transfer of its manufacturing model into its partners' facilities.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Brian Orelli, PhD has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon and recommends the following options: long January 2022 $1920 calls on Amazon and short January 2022 $1940 calls on Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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