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the jaw-dropping sum of $240 million in upfront cash (plus much more in potential milestone payments) to develop the Moderna mRNA platform technology. By striking that deal, AstraZeneca gained the rights to 40 different drug candidates for cardiovascular, metabolic, and kidney conditions, as well as certain forms of cancer.
As the year has continued, Moderna has been seeking to nail down as much intellectual property as it can. It has carefully sought to keep its cards close to the vest, while also parceling out bits of information to show scientists that it’s not just full of hot air. In September, the company’s academic co-founders—Kenneth Chien and Derrick Rossi—published a paper in Nature Biotechnology that said their mRNA molecules were able to improve heart function in mice. Early in October, the company announced it had passed a technical review by DARPA and secured $25 million in contract support to make mRNA therapies against infectious diseases.
At no point has the company publicly divulged its secret sauce of how it makes mRNA drugs that can be injected without setting off an immune system defense reaction—a key technical challenge for anyone attempting to make drugs this way. Some things about the Moderna approach are being kept as trade secrets, which the company won’t ever have to disclose in public applications to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Bancel told me in September.
While working feverishly on the technology, the company has been rounding up lots of big names to help it figure out how to make the most of its situation. The company has the usual gold-plated scientific advisory board, and a board of directors that includes former Genzyme CEO Henri Termeer. In late July, Moderna’s senior management team added Joseph Bolen, the former chief scientific officer at Millennium Pharmaceuticals, as president of R&D.