- The first potential vaccine for the novel coronavirus is set to begin human testing soon.
- The CEO of Moderna, the biotech company that is developing the vaccine, pledged thoughtfulness in setting a potential price.
- "There is no world, I think, where we would contemplate to price this higher than other respiratory virus vaccines," Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in an interview with Business Insider.
- A vaccine to prevent pneumonia costs about $800, which gives some sense of a potential price point.
- Bancel also emphasized that it is "super early" in the vaccine-development process.
- Anthony Fauci, head the National Institutes of Health's infectious-disease unit, has said it will take 12 to 18 months to determine the safety and efficacy of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
The CEO of the buzzy biotech company that's developing the first coronavirus vaccine just pledged that he won't charge too high a price for the injection.
Stephane Bancel, the CEO of Moderna, told Business Insider that he plans to set the price in line with other vaccines that prevent respiratory infections, though he declined to give an exact price.
A vaccine to prevent pneumonia, called Prevnar 13, costs about $800 for four injections, which gives some sense of a potential price point.
"We are highly aware this is a public-health issue, and so we will be very thoughtful about setting a price if this product gets to approval," Bancel said on Wednesday. "There is no world I think where we would contemplate to price this higher than other respiratory virus vaccines."
It's likely to take more than a year for tests to determine whether Moderna's vaccine is safe and can prevent the novel coronavirus. It's still possible that the vaccine could fail to work.
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Bancel said his team isn't spending much time at this point thinking about the cost of the vaccine or how Moderna would sell it. Instead, they're focused on the testing that lies ahead.
Still, the coronavirus outbreak has focused fresh attention on the high cost of healthcare in the US, with some people reporting thousands of dollars in medical bills when they sought care. New York's governor has ordered health insurers to cover some patient costs related to treating the virus.
42 days from genetic code to potential vaccine
Even with the long road ahead, Moderna has beaten history in the race to construct a potential vaccine. Moderna took just 42 days to translate the genetic code of the virus into a vaccine and ship it for testing. By comparison, it took about 20 months to start testing a vaccine candidate for SARS after that virus was sequenced during the 2002-2003 outbreak.
Moderna designed and manufactured the vaccine in 25 days: It had the vaccine ready on February 7, according to a regulatory filing. The next couple of weeks were spent on analytical testing before the company sent the first batch to the National Institutes of Health.
The urgency was driven by the rapid spread of the virus, which causes the disease known as COVID-19. The death toll has surpassed 3,200 people with more than 94,000 infected. While the vast majority of cases have been in China, the virus has spread to at least 80 countries on six continents.
Moderna's unique advantage is its novel technological platform, which also drove its record-breaking IPO for the biotech industry in 2018, in which it raised $604 million. To this point, the company's value has been driven by the potential of its genetic platform, since Moderna has no approved drugs or vaccines on the market.
Moderna is changing how vaccines are made
Moderna's speed wasn't a solo effort. Scientists from Fudan University in Shanghai posted the genomic sequence of the coronavirus on January 10. NIH investigators then worked with Moderna's scientists to study that data and find potential targets.
Just three days later, NIH investigators and Moderna's infectious disease team finalized the sequence for the vaccine, moving into production mode. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations also supported Moderna's work, announcing a funding agreement later in January. By February 7, the company had completed a first batch of the vaccine.
Vaccine-research experts have told Business Insider that it typically requires several years of testing and hundreds of millions in funding to bring a vaccine for an infectious disease to the approval stage. In past outbreaks, like SARS, as the virus began to go away, so did the money for research. There's still no approved vaccine to prevent SARS.
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