Moderna CEO says no single drugmaker can produce enough coronavirus vaccine doses for the planet

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Scientist Xinhua Yan works in the lab at Moderna in Cambridge, MA on Feb. 28, 2020. Moderna has developed the first experimental coronavirus medicine, but an approved treatment is more than a year away.

David L. Ryan | Boston Globe | Getty Images

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said he hopes U.S. and international regulators approve several coronavirus vaccines from multiple companies since no single manufacturer will be able to meet global demand. 

“The odds that every program works are really low, obviously, but I really hope we have three, four, five vaccines because no manufacturers can make enough doses for the planet,” Bancel said during CNBC’s Healthy Returns Virtual Summit. 

Moderna has developed one of the leading coronavirus vaccine candidates in the world. The company is currently wrapping up phase 1 human trials on it in Seattle and is about to start phase 2 trials, it announced last week. If it’s effective and safe to use, it could be ready for market in early 2021, the company said.

Bancel said Moderna is working closely with Dr. Anthony Fauci’s team at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine the best plan to distribute the vaccine, which could be ready in a year to a year-and-a-half, within the U.S.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted “fast track” designation to Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine, a move that speeds up the regulatory review process. Other companies racing to develop a vaccine include Pfizer and Inovio, which have already started clinical trials. 

On Thursday, Moderna said it will soon begin phase 2 trials with 600 participants and is finalizing plans for a phase 3 trial as early as this summer. 

Even as the company ramps up its manufacturing capacity so it can rapidly distribute doses if the vaccine proves effective against the virus and safe for humans, it won’t immediately have enough for everyone, Bancel told CNBC on Friday. 

Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifer, whose company is developing an antibody drug against Covid-19 with plans to enter human trials in June, told CNBC that the problem isn’t with the physical distribution of a potential coronavirus drug, which could be made available by major retail chains, but rather with the ability to meet demand.  There are more than 7.6 billion people in the world and it could take years to vaccinate enough people to achieve so-called herd immunity.

“The physical distribution aspect I think is more than adequate, I do think there will be a capacity issue,” Schleifer said. 

Schleifer said multiple companies will need to succeed in the development of their coronavirus therapeutics because “the demand will far exceed the capacity.”

“We simply cannot do this on an auction basis, whatever state and local area or company wants to pay the highest amount to get access, we can’t do it that way,” Schleifer said. He said that it’s the role of federal, state and other global governments to ensure the drugs are distributed equitably. 

He said the company is trying to get its drug into patients within five months, which would be the fastest it’s ever done so. It took the company nine months to developed an antibody drug for Ebola, he said. 

During a Congressional hearing on Tuesday, Fauci told lawmakers “there’s no guarantee that the vaccine is actually going to be effective.” There are currently no proven treatments or vaccines against Covid-19. 

“One of the big unknowns is, will it be effective? Given the way the body responds to viruses of this type, I’m cautiously optimistic that we will with one of the candidates get an efficacy signal,” Fauci said. 

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