Moderna (MRNA -1.66%) has established itself as a coronavirus vaccine leader. But the company also aims to take significant market share in the prevention of other respiratory diseases. And one of those areas is overflowing with competition. I'm talking about the flu vaccine market. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has made available nine flu vaccines -- made by six different companies -- for the most recent flu season.
But Moderna has one big advantage. This has to do with the way Moderna's vaccine works -- and the plan the company has to make it stand out from the competition. Let's take a closer look at why Moderna may crush rivals in the flu vaccine market -- and eventually the respiratory vaccine market.
Tackling the flu
Moderna aims to use the same technology it's used in its coronavirus vaccine to tackle the flu. The company uses messenger RNA to instruct the body to produce certain proteins. In the case of the coronavirus, this protein is the coronavirus spike protein. The body then learns to mount an immune response against the virus.
This technology involves the production of mRNA in a lab. That's much quicker than producing proteins or weakened pathogens -- necessary steps in traditional vaccine production. So mRNA vaccines win when it comes to speed. As an example, we can look at Moderna's timeline for one of its coronavirus booster candidates. The company took only two months to bring an omicron-specific candidate from the drawing board to human trials.
Today's approved flu vaccines rely on traditional methods. And it takes about six months to produce flu vaccine in quantity using these methods, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If Moderna's flu vaccine candidate is successful in clinical studies, it's likely to represent tough competition for others on the market. That's because Moderna's could be updated with the most appropriate strains more closely to the start of flu season. And if healthcare providers see that Moderna's vaccine beats others in efficacy, it could gain significant traction in the market.
A way to stand out
So, we see the way the vaccine works is a big plus. Now, let's move on to the way Moderna plans for it to stand out. This applies to a potential flu vaccine and to Moderna's even bigger goal -- a pan-respiratory vaccine.
In the company's fourth-quarter earnings call last week, Moderna outlined its plan for a subscription service. Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel spoke of the idea of 10-year agreements. Countries could order a specific volume for a specific year. And then Moderna could customize the eventual respiratory vaccine according to the needs of that specific country. So, one country may request a specific flu strain, while another country would opt for a different strain, for example.
The idea of a subscription over a significant timeframe is another element that could win over countries. That's because it streamlines the process. And that could make ordering product easy. On top of that, the ability to customize a vaccine -- and quickly -- complete the package.
What's happening now
Where does Moderna stand with all of this? The company is waiting for data from the phase 2 trial of its flu vaccine candidate. If all goes well, it then will launch phase 3 -- and start clinical testing of a coronavirus plus flu vaccine candidate too. If these programs are successful, we could imagine products entering the market within the next few years.
The flu vaccine market looks crowded today. But Moderna may have what it takes to stand out and crush rivals in this space -- and this leadership may extend itself across the entire space of respiratory vaccines. And that's a big reason to be optimistic about this biotech company's future.