Stephane Bancel of Moderna: $5B and 10 Years on the Path to Changing Humanity | Starting Greatness with Mike Maples, Jr

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Key Takeaways

  • Moderna prioritizes platform over product. For so long, big pharma has created products with analog solutions. Moderna’s mRNA technology platform is designed to fork and compound on its base knowledge to create unique and effective therapeutics quickly.
    • “Golden eggs (drugs) are coming out of the goose (mRNA platform)” – Stephane Bancel
    • Moderna is not a one drug company – If you can make one drug work safely, you can make many. There is an object-oriented style to this innovation, comparing it to the software world (re-use the knowledge base to other therapeutics).
    • New protein functions are discovered every day. Moderna can not comprehend what kind or how many drug solutions they will have next because the biology of those drugs are not known yet
    • There are true exponential possibilities for therapeutics through the mRNA platform
    • “Once you understand molecular biology, you start to understand the human body like never before in history” – Stephane Bancel
  • Stephane Bancel joined Moderna because he saw a 5% chance that their mRNA technology could change the world of medicine forever
    • “We as a species, if we work together, we can do amazing things. I hope this serves as an example of the risks you can take to make the world a better place” – Stephane Bancel
  • The power of entrepreneurship is to invent the future, break the consensus of what can and can not be done

Intro

  • Stephane Bancel (@sbancel) is the CEO of Moderna, the therapeutics company that is a pioneer in the mRNA technology used in the COVID-19 vaccine. Mike and Stephane discuss Moderna’s investment in mRNA technology and how it provided a solution to the COVID pandemic and how it can continue to produce therapeutic solutions for years to come.
  • Host: Mike Maples, Jr (@m2jr)

What is mRNA?

  • Rather than giving you antibodies, mRNA technology codes your body to create antibodies on its own
    • “Use synthetic mRNA to inject in people so that they make the necessary protein on-demand” – Stephane Bancel
  • Traditional biotech companies engineer human genes into bacteria to have the bacteria make the protein necessary, which is then extracted and injected back into people
    • mRNA creates the proteins from your own DNA without the bacteria
    • mRNA is code and can be coded into a platform to create any protein you need
    • mRNA acts as a set of instructions by which cells make proteins and send them to various parts of the body
    • If you can make one drug work safely, you can make many. There is an object-oriented style to this innovation, comparing it to the software world (re-use the knowledge base to other therapeutics)
      • For example, Moderna is currently creating a much more effective flu vaccine as a branch of the Covid vaccine
  • More information on mRNA science and fundamentals can be found here on Moderna’s site

Platform vs Product

  • Platform vs product – designing a system that can be evolved to address changing demands rather than single solution products
    • “Golden eggs (drugs) are coming out of the goose (mRNA platform)” – Stephane Bancel
      • Invest in the platform to create families of drugs rather than singular solutions
      • Every investment in the platform is an investment in optionality
    • Traditional pharma is an analog industry, they invest in eggs rather than the goose
      • 90% of ideas fail in pharma anyway, why not make your odds of a product succeeding better by using a reusable and adjustable platform

Moderna

  • Stephane Bancel joined Moderna because he saw a 5% chance that their mRNA technology could change the world of medicine forever
    • The risk was worth the incredible upside. He had to raise $5 Billion to build Moderna
      • Was worried about going public because Stephane wanted to ensure they continued to focus on the science and defining the platform rather than a go-to-market product
        • “The problem with science is the unknown unknown” – Stephane Bancel
      • Their Series-A funding was only $2million. It was a grind
        • The minimal funding was good for culture and motivation
      • The power of entrepreneurship is to invent the future, break the consensus of what can and can not be done
        • “Vision without execution is just hallucination” – Stephane Bancel
  • Moderna is not a one or two drug company, mRNA technology is designed to fork and grow
    • Many biotech companies start with a big idea which then slowly degrades as the supply of the problem they are solving diminishes
    • Moderna was the opposite, built a platform that continues to adapt and create adjustable products, one big idea for a variety of solutions
  • “Once you understand molecular biology, you start to understand the human body like never before in history” – Stephane Bancel
    • Biology is a system with incredible tailwinds
    • New protein functions are discovered every day. Moderna can not comprehend what drug solutions they will have next because the biology of those drugs are not known yet

How Moderna Fought COVID

  • Moderna thought they could go from the original sequencing of the COVID virus to a clinical trial in 60 days through their mRNA technology
    • SARS had previously taken Fauci’s team 20 months to go from sequencing to trials
  • In early 2020, Moderna only had $800m in the bank but was granted money for clinical trials through operation warp speed
    • “It’s not very often you get to work on a project where someone asks, how much money do you need?” – Stephane Bancel
  • Stephane and the Moderna team ended up working 7 days a week during 2020
    • Never had to ask anyone to work more, everyone bought it to the effort
    • “It was one of those moments in life, where the task is so big and so much rests on you giving it your best shot, that everyone pulled together in an extraordinary way” – Stephane Bancel
  • When Stephane received his shot with his wife, he reflected on the last 10 years of Moderna and felt a great sense of hope for the future
  • “We as a species, if we work together, we can do amazing things. I hope this serves as an example of the risks you can take to make the world a better place”– Stephane Bancel
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Notes By Drew Waterstreet

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