April 16, 2024

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Chairman of Moderna: The past two years are lessons and experiences


Noba Afeyan Chairman of Moderna: The past two years are lessons and experiences. Where is the strategic high ground for biomedicine in the future?


On January 13, 2022, Noubar Afeyan , chairman of Moderna, a major mRNA vaccine producer during the epidemic, mentioned in an open letter the development direction of the biological company during the epidemic.


Afeyan believes that there are four key points that will determine the lifeblood of global biomedicine: coded drugs, machine learning and artificial intelligence, changes in the development environment and value reshaping of biological companies, and the reform of the regulatory system in the post-epidemic era.


In his view, the past two years have been experiences and lessons since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pneumonia. What insights does he have on the future development of the biopharmaceutical industry, let’s look at his article in 2022: an open letter to biological people.

As I write this, Covid-19 has existed in the world for more than three years, the epidemic seems to be endless, the virus seems to be evolving all the time, and even I was infected with Omicron Covid-19 during the holiday.


Chairman of Moderna: The past two years are lessons and experiences.


However, I think this pandemic also predicts the future of biotechnology. You know, I have been in this field for nearly 35 years, and I have also witnessed the changes in the biomedical world in recent years.

The COVID-19 epidemic is a disaster, but it also makes us actively look for ways to overcome it, which has injected a powerful development impetus into biotechnology. This letter of mine will also 


First, Codable Medicines and Digital Life


As we all know, computers can code programs, then compile, execute, and output results.

In the past ten years, with the deepening of our understanding of biology, we have found that this kind of “program code” also exists in the biological field, for example, various DNA, RNA and proteins have corresponding codes.

People can’t help thinking: Can we also use these codes to input the data we want into the human body to achieve the results we want.

For example, the spike protein on the surface of the new coronavirus can enter the cell, causing infection of the cell, and the body triggers an immune response.

Then when we want the body to produce a certain immune response, we can use the sequence of the protein encoded in the mRNA to artificially.

The production of any viral surface protein that is indistinguishable from the viral surface protein can also induce an immune response in the body.

Then, in this way, we can achieve our goal: let the human body be familiar with the virus in advance and be able to generate an immune response immediately.

From the above example of “coding”, we can see that “codable” drugs are more purposeful and accurate, allowing people to quickly achieve the body response they want, instead of spending a lot of time and energy doing useless work. Go over and over again to synthesize different glycoproteins, and the results are often unsatisfactory.


Second, the integration of life sciences and artificial intelligence


The fusion of artificial intelligence and life sciences is expected to become a new engine of contemporary biomedicine.

For example, when we use artificial intelligence to analyze biological big data, we can find many potential causes and effects between biological genetics and diseases, and can use these correlations to conduct biological experiments.

Although it seems that this field has played a great role at the moment, this is actually just the tip of the iceberg of the potential of artificial intelligence in the biological field.

In fact, we can not only use artificial intelligence and other tools to trace the origin of diseases, but also predict future (health or disease) conditions through artificial intelligence and big data.


Chairman of Moderna: The past two years are lessons and experiences.


For example, our recently launched flagship company, Harbinger Health, requires only a few milliliters of blood to detect genetic mutations in oncological diseases and thus predict the origin of tumors.

Such big data predictions can also be applied to the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, thereby designing better vaccines to prevent future pandemics.



Third, changes in the development environment and value remodeling of biological companies

In 2021, investment in biotechnology tops the list on the public markets. According to a recent article in Boston Business Journal, the top 10 biotech investment rounds in the Boston area in 2021 will raise an average of $397 million, and 4-5 years ago, their B rounds would have only raised tens of millions Dollar.

There are different opinions about these differences. Some people think that the COVID-19 epidemic in 2020 has promoted the development of biological investment, but 2021 is actually the year of failure of biotechnology. Others believe that biological investment has a great future, and only the public market cannot demonstrate the value of biological enterprises.

We have always believed that multi-product biotech companies have the greatest potential for growth. Such biotech platforms have several advantages, the first being that the products they develop are interconnected.

Because these products have different degrees of correlation with each other, when the first project is successfully completed, the success rate of subsequent projects with high correlation will be greatly increased.


In addition, platform optimization and accumulated data create a virtuous cycle of innovation and improvement, which facilitates product development. When new opportunities arise, these companies can quickly launch new projects.


Taken together, these benefits can significantly reduce business risk and improve returns.

But current market investors are still more inclined to invest in single-product bio-companies.

If these companies are underperforming or in crisis, and alternative products happen to appear on the market, the stocks of these products will plummet (Note: This pain examples, the list goes on) .

There is often a prejudice against multi-product companies, which slows them down.



Fourth, the reform of the regulatory system in the post-epidemic era


Besides market forces, what other forces have the power to drive or frustrate innovation in biotechnology?

Obviously, it’s the regulatory framework responsible for ensuring safety and efficacy before a product goes on the market.


The regulatory approval process has always played a key role in the long and resource-intensive journey to market for drugs and diagnostics.

At the same time, these products, once approved, require expensive and specialized production processes.


Post-pandemic, let us need a new regulatory framework: we need to try new things, test them quickly, and get those proven safe and effective products into the hands of as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

Since December 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, WHO, and other regulatory agencies have authorized emergency use or approval of at least 20 COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and tests.


Taking the example I know best as an example, the mRNA vaccine did not exist commercially from January 2020, it was also administered to a small number of people in a dozen clinical trials, and today there are more than 3 billion doses of mRNA vaccine Delivered to people around the world.


We now know what is possible when regulators operate urgently and balance societal risks and benefits.

How these lessons will shape future regulatory approaches and what they should do in the future (especially in response to public crisis events).



Sum up


According to data from around the world, more than 5.5 million people have died from the COVID-19 virus in the world.

It is necessary for anyone to use more resources around them to defend their health. At the same time, we should take a fundamental look at the biological field. The past two years have been lessons and lessons, and the outcome of this battle depends on our own efforts.

Note: This article is partially compiled and not translated verbatim.



NOUBAR AFEYAN.(Jan 13,2022).2022 Annual Letter.https://www.flagshippioneering.com/stories/2022-annual-letter

Chairman of Moderna: The past two years are lessons and experiences.

(source:internet, reference only)

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