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Moderna CEO On Fourth Covid Vaccine Dose, BA.2 Omicron Variant

By Jacob Wolinsky. Originally published at ValueWalk.

Moderna NASDAQ:MRNA CEO Stephane Bancel

Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with Moderna Inc (NASDAQ:MRNA) CEO Stephane Bancel on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” (M-F, 6AM-9AM ET) today, Thursday, March 24th. Following is a link to video on

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel On Fourth Covid Vaccine Dose, BA.2 Omicron Variant

JOE KERNEN: Moderna holding its “Vaccine Day.” It’ll be announcing some new vaccine developments. Meg Tirrell joins us now with a special guest. Morning Meg.

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MEG TIRRELL: Good morning Joe. That special guest is Stéphane Bancel, the CEO of Moderna. Stéphane, thanks for being with us this morning. A lot of news coming from you guys today, as well as over the past couple of weeks, and I want to start with a question about your COVID vaccine and the fourth dose, the booster application you’ve filed with the FDA. You went for everybody 18 plus, whereas Pfizer went for just 65 and older for that fourth dose. Why did you go so broad and what’s your expectation of how that’ll play out?

STEPHANE BANCEL: Good morning Meg. I think we wanted to give regulators, the FDA and regulators in other countries the flexibility. As you know, you have people that are younger adults and have comorbidity factors and they might need sooner fourth dose to protect them so of course it’s going to be a dialogue with the FDA like always and we submitted all the data that we had to give them the best possible information to make the best decision.

TIRRELL: And it sounds like from what the administration has been saying this could happen some authorization, don’t know which population yet, but could happen over the next few weeks. Is that your expectation in terms of timing?

BANCEL: I think that will make a lot of sense. And if you look already several countries around the world have started to fourth dose testing in people at higher risk. As you know, there’s a big wave of BA.2 variants in Europe right now. As many public experts have said these should start in the US very soon, you start already to see it a bit on the East Coast. And we should not forget those numbers I believe are massively underreported because of home testing. And a lot of people are so asymptomatic, but if somebody at risk that has been vaccinated a long time ago gets now infected in BA.2, they are potentially going to be hospitalized and that’s what we all want to avoid. So I think it’s very wise to get ready for fourth dose in the spring for people at high risk.

TIRRELL: Well speaking of other populations who need protection, kids under the age of five don’t yet have access to a vaccine. You of course had data yesterday showing that two doses showed a similar immune response as young adults. However, against Omicron, we see against mild disease that’s only about 40% protective. What’s your expectation for the pace with which this will get through the FDA and how that’ll be received by the regulators?

BANCEL: So we’ve been in constant dialogue with regulators not only in the US, but around the world. And as you know, there’s very big need for vaccine available for this young population and so, we’re very excited about the data because we met the primary endpoint which was neutralizing antibody, which is as good as I, as what we’ve seen with adults, with boosters with teenagers, and that’s really what we believe is really important. The efficacy data and you’re getting efficacy against infection, not just efficacy against hospitalization or death of course, is very similar to what we’re seeing in the adults in the Omicron because we should not forget that these vaccines in the six month to five year old age group was in the middle of the Omicron wave and so it’s actually quite expected that efficacy against infection would be similar to the adults.

TIRRELL: Right and the hope, of course, is that the antibody protection that you see, the antibody levels would confer protection against severe disease similar to what we see in young adults. I also want to ask you about your flu updates. Of course, there’s a lot of hope that mRNA vaccines can bring better flu shots. One of the concerns looking at your earlier data is that the tolerability might not be something people want to get every year for a flu shot. How is the profile of that vaccine starting to shape up with more data?

BANCEL: Yes, so indeed, we looked at two dose in the Phase 2 that we are releasing the data today, a 50 microgram, which was a low dose of the Phase 1, and 25 microgram, which was of course the placebo. And what we’re very excited about is for the influence that A which is the strain that leads to 95% of hospitalization, we are seeing an immune response that is consistent with potentially superior efficacy than the traditional vaccines. Of course, we’ll have to demonstrate that in the Phase 3 study. But we’re very excited when we saw the data. In terms of the profile, it is of course better at 25 and 50. But I think what is important is for people that are at high risk, those people who want to be protected and they care about efficacy and so we don’t think that for this population it’s an issue at all.

TIRRELL: And of course your ultimate plan is to combine your flu and COVID vaccines and potentially an RSV vaccine into this kind of trifecta of a respiratory vaccine, which you announced this week. You also announced a new vaccine program against the four endemic human coronaviruses. Is that looking like a vaccine against the common cold? Tell us about the plans there.

BANCEL: Yeah, so many people don’t realize that there are actually four strain of coronaviruses that circulate in the community way before the COVID pandemic and those strain drives 10% to 30% of vascular arterial disease in older population. And again, like we see with COVID, most younger people as you describe it, they might have like a cold like some people have had, one vaccinated with Omicron but again, our goal here is to protect people that are vulnerable, people that are you know older, people that have comorbidity factor, people that have cancer, you know, that organ transplant people, that because their job like healthcare workers can get exposed to very high level of viral loads. That’s why we want to develop this vaccine. You know, our goal at Moderna is very simple. We believe people should not get sick, hospitalized or dying in today’s age because of a respiratory virus and our aim as a company, as you described it, is to combine all those into a single annual booster. You might not be a product that a 25-year-old wants to get every year, but we believe it’s a product that people at high risk will want to take. And so people who just don’t want to be sick you know, I’ve been taking a flu shot for the last 20 years every fall. Is it because I was worried of dying or getting hospitalized? No. I’m in pretty good health. But I took it because I didn’t want to get sick.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Hey Stéphane, it’s Andrew here and and obviously you’re doing remarkable work but I do have to ask you about your stock sales because it’s become a point that I think a lot of investors have questions about. You sold an enormous amount of stock now over the past several years about from what I can tell about $408 million in stock since the pandemic began. Can you speak and I know it was done through a 10b5 plan and so it was it was planned to some degree in advance but can you speak to the optics of that and what you think it says to the to the investors in Moderna, some of whom have made out very well since the beginning of the pandemic but others who bought in perhaps later on when the stock has since come down?

BANCEL: Sure, so those 10b5 as you describe was set up right at the IPO timing. They were actually kicking off almost a year after the IPO and the IPO anniversary and they were set with regular sales like we believe it’s best practice same amount of stock every day. As you can imagine you went to spend was setup not in secret that there would be a pandemic. So if you look at the stake I have in the company, it’s actually not decreased despite those sales because you know, I got a lot of stock. I’m actually the only investor in the world who bought stock at every product round before the IPO with cash and also my stock option as an employee as a CEO of the company actually I have never sold to this day a single stock option and so as my options get invested over time, like in any company, actually, my, my equity personal property has not decreased and is still very significant. Most of my wife and my family was in one of our stock. And so, if you just look at the numbers, I don’t think anybody’s worried about the stance of the stock in the sense. My position in the company is still extremely large.

TIRRELL: Alright Stéphane, we really appreciate you being here this morning. We’ll be tuning into your “Vaccine Day” and looking for all the news that you’re gonna be presenting there. Thanks again.

BANCEL: Thank you.

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