Sandra Fournier, General Manager of Moderna France, trusts in the company’s history, in Covid and also in the tremendous hope that Messenger RNA technology inspires in a variety of pathologies.
How was Moderna able to create a vaccine in such a short time?
Moderna has existed since 2010, Stéphane Bancel, the CEO, who is also Marseillais, joined the company in 2011 and since then Moderna researchers have been working on messenger RNA technology. They really bet on this technology back then.
Covid has made it possible to unleash the full potential of messenger RNA technology, which we have been working on for the past ten years.
We had acquired such expertise, such know-how that finally in January 2020 when the sequencing of the virus responsible for Covid was revealed we just had to enter this sequencing code on our platform and in 42 days we successfully produced our first batch of vaccine candidates for clinical trials.
At the beginning of 2020 we were just researchers. And in a couple of months it was the progression of testing, clinical trials, a market approval and then commercialization of our first product. We also had to build our first manufacturing and manufacturing facility.
In 2021, we managed to manufacture and ship 807 million doses of our vaccine, 25% of which went to low- and middle-income countries.
And this year our goal is to produce between 2 and 3 billion doses of vaccine.
Are you going to adapt the vaccine to the new variants in this vaccine production?
You should know that the booster dose of the Moderna vaccine is lower, because half the amount of the active ingredient in the booster shot is enough to restore the immune system.
Our platform allows us to continuously adapt vaccine candidates. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been able to process recall candidates and emerging variants.
For the start of the school year, we are preparing a bivalent booster candidate in which there will be two strands of messenger RNA: one strand encoding the ancestral strain and one strand encoding the omicron variant to be effective on all variants to be .
Do you think there will be other booster doses because you prepare them? And do you find it useful?
It is not our driving force, our goal, it is really to monitor the development of the virus on a daily basis, as it mutates, to be vigilant for the emergence of new variants and to continuously adapt and use our vaccine candidates in clinical trials and to generate efficacy and safety data to be able to
It is then up to the public sector, the government, to decide whether they want to set up an annual increase and if so, for which population group.
The virus, it mutates, it evolves, as it mutates and evolves it continues to put pressure on our immune system. Therefore, it is important to be reminded regularly to strengthen our immune system.
What would you say to people who are skeptical about the vaccine and this very “new technology” of messenger RNA? Even if it’s not new…
Messenger RNA research has been around for 50 years. mRNA technology doesn’t come out of a hat. And we at Moderna have been working on this for 10 years and have really acquired an expertise.
Then today there are hundreds of millions of people around the world who have been vaccinated with this messenger RNA technology, it has generated a lot of data.
With regard to our Moderna vaccine, almost 700 million people have been vaccinated worldwide and all the data supports the fact that our vaccine is safe, effective and well tolerated.
It should also be specified that messenger RNA is an information molecule. So compared to other types of vaccines, you don’t inject a piece of the virus. You provide information to your organization.
The messenger RNA provides information to your body so that it produces the spike protein, the characteristic signature of the virus responsible for Covid, and it begins to produce neutralizing antibodies.
And to reassure skeptics, messenger RNA vaccines, in a few days there will be no trace of the vaccine left in the body.
Are you worried about the WTO’s decision to repeal patents on vaccines?
It took Moderna ten years to acquire this know-how. It’s an extremely complex technology. Our Covid vaccine candidate requires more than 600 ingredients. Today there are only two laboratories that have mastered this know-how and are able to produce worldwide quantities.
I don’t think repealing the patents will change that.
How many people were vaccinated by Moderna?
I think there are almost 700 million worldwide.
In France, 6.5 million people received their primary vaccination and around 12 million received the booster. This brings the number of doses administered in France to around 26 million.
Is Moderna also working on other vaccines like the one being prepared against HIV, the virus responsible for AIDS?
We have two HIV vaccine candidates, both in Phase 1. So it’s really at the very beginning.
The aim of the first experiment will be to see whether administration of messenger RNA leads to the production of neutralizing antibodies. The second is to assess the safety and immunogenicity of messenger RNA vaccines that target the HIV envelope.
I am very pleased that these two vaccine candidates are bringing new hope. Especially since around 170,000 people are still living with HIV in France.
What about cytomegalovirus?
When Covid arrived, the first vaccine candidate we actually thought about commercializing was for cytomegalovirus.
We’ve done a lot of work on latent viruses. Why are we interested in latent viruses? Since they are viruses, after infection they stay in your body and one day you have a drop in immunity and suddenly they can be reactivated.
Cytomegalovirus is one of the most dangerous viruses for pregnant women, as it is one of the main causes of congenital malformations in newborns.
We also have other vaccine candidates for other latent viruses: mononucleosis, chickenpox and shingles, and herpes.
How many vaccines are you currently working on?
There are 46 vaccine candidates in development on our platform. We have personalized cancer treatments, we also have therapeutic solutions for rare diseases.
So the field of possibilities is gigantic! I am convinced that this messenger RNA technology will revolutionize the world of medicine! We are only at the beginning of the story of messenger RNA.
Finally the Covid will allow to serve research, otherwise Moderna could not work on such projects?
Absolutely. Two years ago we still had around twenty vaccine candidates, today there are 46. At the beginning of the pandemic there were 800 researchers, today there are more than 3,000 employees.
And indeed, we put a third of last year’s turnover back into research and development.
So it has helped to dramatically accelerate this research on our messenger RNA technology and to advance vaccine candidates in other areas.
We can also use it to build factories: We have announced that we will build a production factory in Canada, Australia and Kenya.
We also have an entire public health program where we are dedicated to pushing research programs to conduct clinical trials for the 15 viruses that are classified as of concern by the WHO such as Ebola, Crimean-Congo virus, etc.
In this way we can react much more quickly to possible pandemics.