The success of the Spikevax mRNA vaccine against Covid-19 — it ended up in 73 million American arms by the end of 2021 — sent Moderna’s stock soaring. And that turned Bancel into a multibillionaire and one of the world’s most influential biotech CEOs.
Previously CEO of a French diagnostics company, Bancel has led Moderna since 2011. The company has been working to develop messenger RNA-based medicines for everything from cancer to heart disease. But it was Spikevax — the Covid-19 vaccine created in collaboration with a National Institutes of Health team led by Kizzmekia Corbett — that became its first marketed product.
Bancel sees nothing but upside for messenger RNA technology, which tells cells how to build proteins or protein fragments that can stimulate the body to do things like make antibodies. The coronavirus pandemic “de-risked” the method and opened up opportunities for Moderna to apply it to treating lung infections and other threats, he says.
Bancel has been accused by some of fostering a culture of excessive secrecy inside Moderna. And amid the pandemic, critics, including some of the company’s own shareholders, said Moderna wasn’t supplying enough Spikevax to poorer nations. But in October 2021, the company agreed to send up to 110 million low-priced vaccine doses to African Union nations. And in December, Moderna backed down in its fight with the U.S. government over whether NIH researchers should be named as co-inventors and put its patent application on hold — potentially clearing the way for the government to give more manufacturers access to the technology, and to get even more doses to developing countries.