In late 2018, Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA) went public in the largest biotech IPO in history. Its value barely moved until mid-February 2020, when COVID-19 cases in the U.S. started showing up in multiple states. Now that its coronavirus vaccine has received Emergency Use Authorization, some investors might think there is limited upside left in the stock. That thinking might lead shareholders of Moderna to do the worst thing they could do right now.

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Warp speed and beyond

Working with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the company delivered a vaccine just 42 days after the genome sequence of the novel coronavirus was made public. Since then, the U.S. government has provided $4.1 billion to the company to get the drug to market, and will purchase 200 million doses of the vaccine with an option to buy 300 million more. Management's base case is for 600 million of the doses to be available by the end of 2021.

Much has been made about using mRNA for its vaccine, but patented fat molecules that deliver the genetic instructions to the cell are also part of the secret sauce. Without these, a strong response from the immune system would destroy both carrier and cargo. On a December investor conference call, CEO Stephane Bancel referenced the 20 products in the company's pipeline using this approach, asserting capital had been a limiting factor in the past. Now, with $4 billion of cash on the balance sheet, he expects more successful launches such as the potential for $2 billion to $5 billion in sales from the company's cytomegalovirus vaccine, which is currently in a phase 2 trial. 

Selling the stock now that one drug is authorized may lock in a profit, but Moderna's most valuable asset could be its platform for drug development. If so, it will take years to play out. Shareholders who sell now could be giving up on the company just as it's starting to revolutionize how diseases are treated.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.