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Stock soars on cancer vaccine data, CEO Bancel takes on commercial role

Shares of Moderna (MRNA) soared to around 14% on Thursday on the news that a personalized cancer vaccine, produced in partnership with Merck (MRK), reduced the risk of late-stage melanoma by 49%.

Moderna (MRNA) has struggled to maintain Wall Street’s attention on its pipeline as it recovers from the COVID vaccine highs of 2022, when sales topped $19 billion. But as CEO Stéphane Bancel told Yahoo Finance Live (video above), that may change soon.

The company, he said, is working on bringing more vaccines to market, including one for RSV in 2024 and a flu vaccine, which it had to postpone until 2025.

But the big news was the cancer vaccine, which the the company is expecting to launch in 2025. The vaccine is currently in phase III trial in tandem with Merck’s blockbuster cancer drug Keytruda.

According to data that was unveiled Thursday, the vaccine helped reduce the risk of late-stage melanoma by 49% in a three-year follow-up from a phase II-b trial. That’s up from 44% after two years, which the company revealed last year.  

“The data is actually improving. We have ideas of how to improve the technology further from new science, from manufacturing. So I think it’s a big deal for melanoma patients,” Bancel told Yahoo Finance.

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel speaks at the Boston College Chief Executives Club luncheon in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 4, 2022.   REUTERS/Katherine Taylor

“We have ideas”: Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel. (Katherine Taylor/REUTERS) (REUTERS / Reuters)

He added that the manufacturing for the personalized vaccine, which is produced based on each recipient’s DNA, has been reduced to just 30 days from diagnosis to treatment.

Wall Street is anxiously awaiting more commercial products from Moderna, which still only has its COVID-19 vaccine, Spikevax, on the market.

The company and board have recently made moves to address that anxiety. Among other management departures over the past year, the company lost chief commercial officer Arpa Garay after less than two years on the job. Rather than filling the role, Bancel will be personally overseeing commercial operations, tapping into his old skill set as a sales rep, until 2025, he told Yahoo Finance.

“I want to be very close to the team. I want to obsess about customer intimacy. How do we understand customer needs in the retail pharmacy, the wholesaler, the doctors. How do we help them help their patients,” Bancel said.

He says his oversight will help expedite the processes.

“The key for us is that we go out of the pandemic into growth again. As we looked at the priorities of the company, we became very clear, at the management and the board, that it will be helpful if we could accelerate the decision-making process, if we could accelerate relationships with key customers,” Bancel said.

The company has a strong pipeline, with 40 products in development, of which seven are late-stage, Bancel said.

But the company did not get its RSV vaccine through trials in time to compete on the market this year with Pfizer (PFE) and GSK (GSK). Wall Street expects the flu, RSV, and COVID-19 vaccines could give Moderna a $100 billion portfolio — which it had predicted for next year. But that is delayed until the flu vaccine launches.

Moderna said it expects $6 billion this year, the lower limit of its guidance, from just the COVID-19 vaccine. It also said it expects $4 billion in 2024, mostly at the end of the year after the RSV vaccine launch.

Anjalee Khemlani is the senior health reporter at Yahoo Finance, covering all things pharma, insurance, care services, digital health, PBMs, and health policy and politics. Follow Anjalee on all social media platforms @AnjKhem.

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