AMBRIDGE, Mass. — At first glance, Moderna Therapeutics looks like the most enviable biotech startup in the world. It has smashed fundraising records and teamed up with pharmaceutical giants as it pursues a radical plan to revolutionize medicine by transforming human cells into drug factories.

But the reality is more complicated.

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  • A reference to Yahoo Finance News means nothing. It is just a Moderna Press release which Yahoo republished. All Pharma have pipeline, but only 0.01% make it to Phase IV. Regardless, they disclose data, not talk in air to the public.

  • While well written and exhaustive this seems rather biased against Moderna and Bancel personally. Are biotech/ pharma giants just gambling away billions on Moderna’s science? Are we so jaded by investment culture that we outright dismiss the potential for transformative therapies on the basis of flashy execs, even in the face of massive support from 100 year old pharma leaders? Sure the small investors were treated like.. small investors, but industry leaders were given a look under the hood and invested hundreds of millions.. The articles squishy critiques relies heavily on former employees and anonymous online message boards.. what a reliable source of information. While the criticism of company culture is likely accurate, note the massive company expansion and the acknowledgement from C-level that change is needed.. oh and by the way.. survey based awards show improvement here. Its hard to read comparisons to firms like amazon and Uber preceded by skepticism.. I wonder what folks thought of amazon in the early years.. my guess is healthy skepticism, followed by regret. As for Ego, ambition and turmoil.. that’s the starting point for a game changer in any industry.. so spot on Moderna, own it..

    • It is so transformative as you think, then, where is the data? Why absolutely no publication yet? Others have tried in this space, and have failed. Big Pharma sometimes make deals out of desperation to satisfy BOD demands. “so spot on Moderna” a company without any data?????

    • There’s a first time for everything, including successful corporate absolutism. However, it is somewhat reassuring to know that industry giants have made such titanic investments to the venture.

    • I agree with R. With protected IP they should be spewing their promising data. What is the downside? It just is not a well timed PR move with the Theranos disaster so fresh in everyone’s mind. And frankly, without knowing much more about their particular platform it doesn’t seem too promising. Any company can have a multi-billion valuation, but only a few deliver results.

    • The notion that there “isn’t any data” is laughable given the information presented. Let me re-phrase, there is no publicly available information convincing the general public of the long term aspirational vision of Moderna. Sure, big pharma takes risks on ventures.. but they arent throwing cash away 100M at a time on nothing. Its easy to be a skeptic, isn’t it? Interesting that in the absence of specific data the worst is assumed despite evidence to the contrary, I say again.. Are we so jaded by investment culture that we need to see convincing clinical data akin to late phase success in the early years of a company? While I’m sure nothing short of late phase clinical efficacy will convince the lazy skeptics, heres a look at the info that will be forth coming in 2017: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/moderna-provides-pipeline-full-corporate-223000197.html

    • Everyone has an idea. Idea does not mean it will be a block buster drug. Only .01% succeed. Reference to Yahoo Finance could be laughable, as you are trying to defend a company which refused to publish its data. It even refuse to disclose Phase I clinical trial results. What are they afraid of????

    • That is an excellent demonstration of the difference between business and science. Business is highly speculative with little skepticism. Real science is carried out with a healthy dose of skepticism, question everything. One cannot merely state they will show data. Especially if you want to run with the big boys. They (think Regeneron, BMS, Amgen, Genentech/Roche) certainly do not really on yahoo finance posts written by god knows who. And me personally, I will not regret it if Moderna succeeds as that would be a boon for science and medicine. But, “In god we trust, all others must show data” is the most basic of scientific principles.

    • Im not sure.. but my reading of the article says they just got their first phase one data set and will be releasing this quarter. Maybe you guys are right, and Merck, AZ, Vertex, Alexion and about 100 leading scientists investing their time and future are wrong. We will see.

  • Very well written article, Damian! Having worked at Moderna when it was being established, and experiencing CEO behavior and culture, I can bet that a lot of skeletons will come out when and if data is made public. mRNA as a therapeutics had not been successful. It has a lot of challenges. Bancel, a Salesperson, is not a magician to make it work. Oh! by the way, his names are forced on patents… that’s why you see his name almost on every patent. Personally, I bet on failure of ModRNA gimmicks down the road and good luck to investors who will loose investments by betting a salesperson “wanna be scientist.”

    • Just to add a few lines on behavior of ModeRNA CEO: I noticed in mid of 2013 that Bancel profile was in Wikipedia. It was highly praised profile which claims that he was a “Managing Director” Eli Lilly. I filed an objection to the profile that profile was exaggerated. It was deleted by Wikipedia moderators. Next day it was added again. I filed the objection again and it was deleted. It was showing again very next at the Wikipedia, therefore I filed objection again. The Wikipedia moderators noticed that an IT company from India which was probably hired by him or ModeRNA was adding his exaggerated profile to the Wikipedia. Wikipedia moderators deleted Bancel profile and permanently banned the IT company which was adding his profile.

      This does give some clues that some very positive reviews at the Glassdoor can be highly questionable and “most probably” posted by hired outsiders/IT companies. Since Glassdoor has no mechanism to challenge the reviews, nothing can be done about it….

      My experience at the Wikipedia shows the questionable propaganda behavior.

  • Wait until they move from Phase 1 trials into cGMP manufacturing. This speed will stop with the huge amount of testing and documentation needed to get approval of their “New Drugs” by multiple worldwide drug regulators. Besides the US, who else is going to pay for their developmental costs of these new age drugs – no one! Good luck, they will need it.

  • A very well written and balanced piece Damian. The secrecy and lack of peer review on the merits of their approach to addressing the mRNA puzzle that has stymied many excellent researchers over the years, is a very large red flag for me. I understand maintaining a competitive advantage, but well conducted exploratory pre-clinical studies and their results would go a long way towards validating the science without giving up the ghost.
    I look forward to reading your next review.

  • Excellent piece. This is the kind of reporting that will keep stat on the list of what to read and makes Damian Garde a journalist to follow.

  • This was great scientific reporting. This is what a biotech startup critique article calls for. The science counts, no matter the bankroll. We have enough non-scientific people that have accidentally found themselves in positions of trying to control the biotech industry for their own personal ego and gains. The life sciences and drug development industry do not follow the same rules as Silicon Valley, no matter all the meager attempts at re-creating Job’s silo structure (i.e. Elizabeth Holmes). Thank you Mr. Garde.

  • Genentech the company is not. David Epstein (novartis) the CEO is not. The values and behaviors seem very off and that is a disturbing starting point for a young-ish company.
    The science may have some merit based on the work & reputation of the BOD but clearly they may need to step in and get honest about the unapologetic “no one is going to catch us attitude.

  • Lot’s of investments and a CEO w/o a science background but experienced in S&M makes one think of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes not even Valeant. The comparison with Genentech is an insult to that wonderful science based company. The only reason for optimism is the real scientists on the BOD: Langer, Babiss, Mendlein and Nabel.

    • I couldn’t agree more with this statement. Precisely what I was thinking while I was reading the article. Fine reporting btw STAT.

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