The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Moderna’s plans rely on having a really good vaccine

As the world’s many Covid-19 vaccine developers announced deals to supply hundreds of millions of doses to governments around the globe, Moderna stayed quiet. Then, yesterday, the company revealed it had pre-sold about $400 million worth of its vaccine at a price more than double that of some competitors.

Moderna said it had signed a series of low-volume contracts valuing its vaccine at $64 to $74 for a two-dose regimen. That’s more than Pfizer and BioNTech’s $39 course of treatment, and it’s a multiple of AstraZeneca’s implied $8 cost and Johnson & Johnson’s $10 dose.

On a conference call with analysts, Moderna said it was in the process of negotiating larger volume deals that would likely reflect lower per-dose costs. But when asked, again and again in a variety of phrasings, how the company could charge a materially higher price than its rivals, CEO Stéphane Bancel said “I do not think all products are equal,” and that “the totality of the data” would differentiate Moderna’s vaccine in time.

That may turn out to be true, but it might not matter much to governments negotiating in the present, when the totality of the data is unknown. And it might not resonate with officials in the U.S., who have already committed $1 billion in taxpayer funds to support Moderna’s vaccine.

The future of consumer genomics remains murky

The biggest wheels of the consumer genomics industry succeeded in quickly selling millions of DNA tests to people around the world. But turning those one-time sales into a growing business has proved tricky, a fact underlined by a pair of moves from leaders Ancestry and 23andMe this week.

Ancestry, after multiple stabs at an IPO and a round of layoffs, sold a majority stake to the private equity firm Blackstone, STAT’s Erin Brodwin reports. Ancestry painted the deal as a means of expanding the health-focused side of its business. Days before, the company said it would start selling whole genome sequencing — a deeper DNA test than the one it previously offered — at a premium price.

Separately, 23andMe, months removed from layoffs of its own, launched a new subscription service that costs members $10 per month or $79 per year for access to what the company is billing as exclusive health reports based on the latest research.

Each is a bet that the solution to lagging demand for DNA tests is offering more and deeper information to consumers. And each could come to nothing if the yesteryear boom in consumer genetics proves to have been a fad.

This could be the year BioMarin finally becomes profitable

BioMarin is a $22 billion company with six approved products, and yet never in its 23-year history has it turned an annual profit from continuing operations (as measured by generally accepted accounting principles, at least).

But that might finally change.

Later this month, BioMarin expects to win FDA approval for what could be its biggest product, a one-time gene therapy for hemophilia A. The company is also close to filing for approval for vosoritide, a treatment for the most common cause of dwarfism. 

That makes the rest of 2020 “a pivotal inflection point” for BioMarin, SVB Leerink analyst Joseph Schwartz wrote in a note to investors yesterday. The company, which lost $24 million last year and $77 million the year before, might actually hit the long-delayed milestone of making a profit.

Where does CRISPR go from here?

In just five years, the genome-editing technology CRISPR has been feted, doubted, scrutinized, and subjected to legal review. It has also splintered into a series of related technologies, promising better and more efficient DNA editing. So what’s next?

STAT convened a pair of experts to discuss exactly that, covering the underlying science, the vast potential applications, and the remaining uncertainties tied to the fast-evolving technology. The conversation, moderated by STAT managing editor Gideon Gil, features David Liu, a CRISPR pioneer and professor at the Broad Institute, and Alexis Thompson, a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

You can watch the discussion here.

More reads

  • Brigham president had sold more Moderna stock before she resigned from biotech’s board. (Boston Globe)
  • With biotech stocks, investors love the thrill of the chase. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Teladoc Health reaches agreement to buy Livongo in a $18.5 billion deal. (STAT)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Thursday, August 6, 2020


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