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24 May 2023

Leveraging 13 Years of Investment in mRNA Innovation for Future Pandemic Preparedness

Hamilton Bennett
Senior Director of Vaccine Access and Partnerships
Disease X Panelists

At Moderna, we know what it means to push past possible – especially when talking about time to response. Just two days after the first complete sequence of the COVID-19 virus was made publicly available online in January of 2020, Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine candidate was under development. Today, it’s been approved in more than 70 countries. While I am proud of the impact Moderna had in ending this pandemic, we must not lose sight of the millions of lives lost over the last three years. Unfortunately, COVID-19 will not be our last pandemic, but the lessons that can be learned will help us better prepare for the next one.

I spoke about this in March on a panel at South by Southwest (SXSW) titled, ‘Covid, Mpox and Disease X: What’s Next?’ about lessons learned and the need for public-private collaboration when it comes to developing global pandemic preparedness strategies. I was joined by Matt Hepburn, Senior Advisor to Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) at the White House. Matt and I worked closely through Operation Warp Speed during the height of the pandemic. As part of the conversation, we dug into the U.S. government’s response to the recent Mpox outbreak as an example of the opportunity we have to improve the public health response to similar outbreaks in the future.

The Moderna team has spent more than a decade developing our platform to advance mRNA medicines, and our iterative vaccine design approach to emerging infectious diseases enabled our COVID-19 vaccine development at record speed – when every day counted. Matt and I spoke about the importance of collaboration between the private sector and public health authorities, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and National Institutes of Health (NIH), monitoring for emerging threats and executing targeted early development to improve our ability to respond to ‘Disease X’.  Disease X, named by the WHO, represents and unknown pathogen that could cause a future international epidemic.¹ 

We also discussed the link between global health and pandemic preparedness, and the growing recognition that the two are inextricably connected. Pandemics nearly always exacerbate health inequities that already exist. Improving our ability to respond to future global pandemics should be done with a recognition that diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines rely, in part, on public health infrastructure to support access. mRNA technology has the potential to advance public health for all, and in doing so provides an opportunity for us to improve responses to public health emergencies.

This brings me to one way in which Moderna will be part of the solution. Motivated by our mission to deliver the greatest possible impact to people through mRNA medicines, just over a year ago we launched our mRNA Access program. mRNA Access invites academic collaborators around the world to use our high throughput manufacturing capabilities and R&D expertise to design novel investigational mRNA vaccines for emerging and neglected infectious diseases that threaten global health. Researchers who join this collaborative model have access to our mRNA platform and support from our research teams, and as of today, we have twelve collaborating institutions and dozens of participating scientists. Our portfolio includes novel investigational vaccines against neglected diseases such as Malaria and Tuberculosis, and pathogens with pandemic potential like MERS-CoV-2 and pandemic influenza. I am proud to be a part of this initiative as a core tenant of our global public health strategy.

While the COVID-19 public health emergency of international concern has ended, we have a lasting opportunity to continue to be bold, push past possible, and continue to bring mRNA technology forward to positively impact public health.

Read more about Moderna’s overall commitment to global public health here.