While the anxious world watches for progress on Moderna’s human trials of its Covid-19 vaccine, the biotech company took investors aside Tuesday morning for a virtual tour of its basic science achievements.
The annual Science Day showed the company’s work on purifying the messenger RNA molecules it hopes will help our cells fight viruses and diseases like cancer. Moderna scientists discussed new ways of delivering these instructional molecules to a cell’s protein factories. Then they told how these techniques might come together to produce the first successful vaccine against HIV.
Analyst Geulah Livshits at Chardan Capital Markets came away fortified in her Buy rating on Moderna stock (ticker: MRNA). But the stock’s rocket ride to a May peak of $87 has made it hard for even its fans to keep pace. Livshits’ Wednesday note showed a price target of just $52 for the stock—which was going for $59 in early Wednesday trading, down 1.5%.
And while the biotech company’s market capitalization has settled back from $30 billion to $21 billion, there is still plenty of optimism in its valuation.
Moderna’s high esteem resulted from its front-runner status in the race to find a Covid-19 vaccine, with its candidate now in Phase 2 trials. But Covid-19 got only a few mentions Tuesday, as the company showed off basic technologies that it hope will bring success against the Covid-19 virus and the even wilier one that causes HIV.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus mutates like other coronaviruses, posing a challenge for vaccines to instill broad immunity against the varieties of virus out there. But Moderna’s collaborators at the Scripps Institute and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told Tuesday’s audience that HIV is an order-of-magnitude virus more variable than the Covid one.
Attempts to develop HIV vaccines have been foiled by variations in the virus, as well as the human immune cells the virus targets, said Scripps immunology professor Bill Schief. He hopes that Moderna’s messenger-RNA technology will allow quick adjustments in the design and delivery of vaccine candidates that neutralize a broad variety of HIV viruses.
“We believe that collaborating with Moderna is critical to being able to carry out expeditious iterative human vaccine clinical trials,” the Scripps HIV researcher said.
While Chardan’s Livshits does not expect quick success for Moderna’s work against HIV, she is confident that advances against that most-challenging target will carry over into the company’s products aimed at easier diseases, like Covid-19.
Write to Bill Alpert at firstname.lastname@example.org