“In this fight, where we are today—this is May of 2020—there's a lot of other companies and a lot of other approaches that are trying to generate vaccines. I wish them all success, and we all need to be successful here. I have only two competitors in this race: the virus and the clock.”
If developing a COVID-19 vaccine were a race, Tal Zaks and Moderna Therapeutics won the first leg. It took them only 63 days from the time the virus was sequenced until they had a new vaccine in human clinical trials. So impressed was BARDA—the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority—that they awarded Moderna $483 million to begin producing the vaccine should it gain FDA approval.
Their vaccine uses messenger RNA (mRNA) to ‘reprogram’ the kinds of proteins a cell expresses—a potential game-changer. “You can make a completely different kind of drug and a completely different kind of vaccine with it,” Zaks tells Mike. “And with that you can go after targets that traditional medicine has found really hard to target.”