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  • Moxie Thompson

Moderna's Meteoric Rise during the Boston Biotech Boom

The medical world turned upside down in March 2020. Big names that once dominated the corporate collective conscience were pushed into the shadows while actors such as Moderna, Pfizer, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and the CDC commanded the public’s attention with their every move. Several companies who have become a major part of the global fight against the pandemic call Boston home.

Today, there are around 1,000 biotech firms in the city of Boston, according to EPM Scientific. Jobs in this field have been climbing in the past decade, with Massachusetts beating out every other state with 34,366 workers in the field as of 2016. This 40% raise from 2007 indicates more than a booming industry, but a coastal realignment as well. A shift in biotech power from the notoriously tech savvy California to our own doorstep is now taking place.

While the sector as a whole has had a 6.5% decline since 2007, Boston has bucked this trend. In 2016, venture capitalists put $2.9 billion into building pharmaceutical companies in Boston. One company, Translate Bio Inc., an mRNA therapeutics company out of Lexington, MA, grossed 138 million dollars in 2020, up from $7.8 million in 2019 according to the Boston Business Journal. Pulmatrix, a pulmonary-therapeutics company also based in Lexington, had a nearly five-million dollar increase in revenue from 2019 to 2020, raking in $12.63 million. Byrna Technologies Inc of Andover, MA, had a massive surge in revenue, earning $16.57 million in 2020 versus the approximate $924,000 they made the year earlier.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

The sector’s fifth largest employer in Massachusetts as of 2018 has recently come into the spotlight after producing one of the first authorized COVID-19 vaccines in the world. Moderna, the Cambridge-based company that counted just 2,200 employees three years ago, became Massachusetts' third largest biotech employer this year and is now a world-renowned leader in biotechnology. They plan to double the size of their headquarters in Kendall Square along with a new science center to support future endeavors in mRNA medicines by integrating scientific and non-scientific spaces for collaboration and innovation. Construction on the building has already begun and should be ready for move-in by 2023.

The company is expected to generate billions in revenue this year from their COVID-19 vaccine. The Moderna vaccine was granted an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) on December 18, 2020 and has yet to be officially licensed by the FDA. The FDA approved a third dose of the Moderna vaccine to be used as a booster-shot for immunocompromised vaccine recipients or those over the age of 65. Moderna's vaccine has also been approved for use as a booster shot on recipients of the J&J vaccine, a stunning achievment for the company that reflects (). The company has taken off from where it was a few years ago, and with new innovations on the horizon, it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. According to Forbes, Moderna’s stock has risen 325% since last November, from $98 million to $416 million as of August 5. It expects to make $20 billion this year, according to Investor’s Business Daily, with the rollout of booster shots likely to contribute to a greater than expected revenue.

There have been protests against Moderna, however, regarding their unwillingness to share the vaccine with other companies for production or widen the spread of dose distribution. Back in April, more than 60 people gathered outside Moderna’s Cambridge headquarters to demonstrate. Organized by the group Free the Vaccine, this demonstration was one of the many protests around the country aimed at Moderna or Pfizer demanding that the vaccine be more globally accessible, especially for lower-income countries. Additionally, critics want President Biden to support a World Trade Organization patent waiver which would increase distribution of the vaccine to these countries, according to the Boston Globe. Some want Moderna to join the World Health Organization’s Technology Access Pool to make the vaccine more globally available and affordable.

On September 29, more than a dozen doctors related to Harvard Medical School gathered outside the CEO of Moderna’s house to protest Moderna’s lack of aid to countries in need.

At the protest, Dr. Joia Mukherjee of Partners in Health and Harvard Medical School said, "We have the technology. We need to transfer that technology to places that are well prepared to produce vaccines."

As the year draws to a close, Moderna has agreed to sell $12 billion in COVID-19 vaccines in 2022. Additionally, they’ve already begun signing contracts for 2023 with countries concerned with the endemic phase of the pandemic.

Moderna has not befallen the fate of many biotech companies during the pandemic. They have emerged from the shadows of larger companies and government institutions to grow in in power, size, and wealth. This meteoric rise to the top could help the biotech tycoon etch its name into the status quo, but as the pandemic goes out with a whisper, their efforts may end up a premature grasp at scientific dominance.


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