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Should Investors Be Worried About Moderna's Leadership Change?

By Brian Orelli, PhD and Keith Speights - Mar 12, 2021 at 7:14AM

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The biotech's chief medical officer is moving on.

Moderna (MRNA 4.97%) recently announced that Tal Zaks, the biotech's chief medical officer, is planning on leaving the company in late September. In this video from Motley Fool Live, recorded on March 1, Contributors Brian Orelli and Keith Speights discuss Zaks' history with Moderna and the impact his departure may have on the company's future.

Brian Orelli: Then Moderna disclosed their Chief Medical Officer Tal Zaks will be leaving the company in late September. He was with the company for six years, so well before the IPO [initial public offering] happened in late 2018. He's pretty famous for having sold shares all the way through during the run-up. I think, at last count, I saw he'd grossed $80 million in sales of stock. Obviously, he would've made a heck of a lot more if he just held on, but it's his money and I can understand -- you have a windfall, that not keeping it all in one place makes sense to me. So are you worried about Moderna's prospects during the change of the medical officer position?

Keith Speights: Well, I'll first say that I suspect Tal Zaks wished that he had held onto at least some of the shares [laughs] to sell at a higher price, but yeah. Still, $80 million gross profit isn't bad, is not bad at all. We don't know where he's going at this point. I think he's going to serve through the next 10 months -- September, right? Yeah, September, I think it was September.

But there were no details provided about where he's going. It wouldn't surprise me to see him become a top executive at a smaller biotech, perhaps, we'll see. But the question, should investors be worried? My answer's no, absolutely not. Moderna shouldn't have a problem finding a highly qualified new chief medical officer. Their technology is sound. It's not like the departure of Tal Zaks is going to all of a sudden leave them with a void that they're not going to be able to keep going. It's an interesting move, but I think Moderna has been so successful that Tal Zaks is probably being poached by another company. But I don't think it materially impacts Moderna's prospects at all.

Orelli: Yeah, and then there's sort of like different flavors of chief medical officers, so there's the kind of chief medical officer that is sort of for new up-and-coming company where they have that sort of different requirements for that, compared to a company that Moderna is growing very quickly into, which is a company with quite a few programs. And now it's more of a logistical issue versus a scientific issue, even for the chief medical officer.

Speights: Yeah. Sometimes the departure of a top executive really does matter to a company, but in this case, I just don't think it's going to be a big deal.

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