Search for a COVID-19 Vaccine

Theresa Brady
Theresa Brady
May 7, 2020

Introducing Biotechnology: Beyond Imagination, a new series highlighting the technology and scientific advancements of BIO Digital participating companies and BIO member companies. Featuring videos and blog posts that will enhance your understanding of technologies being developed in our industry, this series will demonstrate how cutting-edge advancements hold promise for our future and truly go Beyond Imagination.

Beyond Imagination Member Spotlight: Moderna Therapeutics

With COVID-19 spreading around the world, social distancing remains the only defense against the silent killer. As health care workers define a new level of hero, researchers and scientists are also working nonstop to attack the virus head-on to find potential cures, treatments and vaccines.   

Researchers and scientists at Massachusetts-based Moderna Therapeutics are at the forefront of this battle. Working with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), they brainstormed and developed a potential COVID-19 vaccine in only 42 days. Called mRNA-1273, the investigational vaccine already has been approved by the FDA for Phase 2 trials. 

Moderna is one of many biotechnology companies searching for an answer. So, what makes Moderna’s approach different? Messenger RNA. 

According to Moderna, “Every cell in the body uses mRNA to provide real-time instructions to make the proteins necessary to drive all aspects of biology, including in human health and disease. The potential implications of using mRNA as a drug are significant and far-reaching and could meaningfully improve how medicines are discovered, developed and manufactured.”


In a recent I am BIO podcast, Moderna’s CEO, Stéphane Bancel explained how the company was able to move so rapidly without ever having access to the virus itself.

“Working with the NIH, we worked to decide and design the vaccine literally on our computers,” said Bancel. “We never had access to the virus, but we had access to something we believe is more important than the physical virus, which is the genetic makeup of the virus – its sequence.”

In the development process, researchers isolated the virus from an infected patient in China. They uploaded the virus’s genetic sequence into a public database. In collaboration with the NIH, scientists at Moderna identified a key protein on the surface of the virus which had the potential to be a strong vaccine candidate. Researchers encoded instructions to make this protein into a molecule – the mRNA – which potential patients will receive via a vaccine.  

One of the most promising aspects of this method is that the virus is not needed to manufacture the vaccine. Instead, scientists gather the information from the isolated virus, and administer the genetic information directly to the patient – no contact with the illness necessary. This information will help cells develop targeted attacks to strengthen the body’s overall defense systems and protect it from current or potential infection. 

Utilizing this innovative protein messenger, Moderna’s 800-member team is working around-the-clock – even from home – to work toward a vaccine that is safe, effective and delivered as quickly as possible. Although clinical trials could continue for 12-18 months, Moderna’s team is laser focused on ensuring the vaccine is safe and widely available, if approved. In the past few weeks, the company has increased its manufacturing capabilities to allow for rapid production. 

As Moderna continues to work to make this vaccine a reality, BIO continues to support the hard work and ingenuity of our biotechnology innovators as they work to protect the world from this virus.

Registered attendees of BIO Digital can engage with cutting edge companies like Moderna through BIO One-on-One Partnering™ and other virtual features including educational programming and company presentations