The man who made Moderna

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Good morning.

The big news yesterday—and possibly the best news since the pandemic began—is that Moderna Therapeutics announced positive Phase I test results from its COVID 19 vaccine candidate. It’s a small test—just 8 people—but all developed antibodies from the vaccine, suggesting a path to success by early next year.

Last week, I interviewed the man who gave birth to Moderna—Noubar Afeyan of Flagship Pioneering—for our podcast, Leadership Next, out this morning here. It was one of the most interesting conversations I’ve had during lockdown, and well worth listening to.

Flagship is a portfolio company, which creates and incubates life sciences companies, and its goal, Afeyan says, is “innovation at the extreme.” An excerpt from the interview:

“Everything we do is to create completely new possible solutions that don’t exist today. When we start these things, they are completely unreasonable, and therefore dismissed…I believe humanity has largely used up all the obvious things to do to have social impact. We have to work on things that are un-obvious and unreasonable, and identify from those the subset that might turn out to be realizable. We have to start with science fiction and take the fiction out.”

The vaccine technology Moderna developed uses messenger RNA, which is a snippet of genetic code, to produce an antibody response. Afeyan says Moderna is aiming for capacity of a billion doses annually by the end of next year. With pressure growing to make any vaccine free, that early effort is unlikely to prove profitable. But a successful vaccine would demonstrate the value of Moderna’s technology—which could explain why the company’s stock price has jumped 4X since the start of the year.

More news below. And if you are struggling with the challenge of how to reopen after lockdown, here’s some collected advice from the CEOs of Ford, Gap, Rite Aid, Hilton, Qualcomm, Duke Energy, Synchrony, Delta, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Starbucks, Kohl’s, Wells Fargo, Macy’s and Cisco.

Alan Murray

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