Moderna Wins Initial $20M Grant from Gates Foundation

Moderna Therapeutics said today it received an initial $20 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a new affordable combination of messenger RNA–based antibody therapeutics geared toward preventing HIV infection.

Bill and Melinda Gates
Bill and Melinda Gates

The grant is intended for use in the antibody combination’s preclinical study and a Phase I clinical trial. Gates Foundation’s $20 million funding could potentially grow into a total $100 million commitment—including the HIV antibody project—toward development of additional mRNA-based treatments for various infectious diseases, Moderna said.

“The foundation’s mission to help all people lead healthy and productive lives is well aligned with Moderna’s mission to deliver on the promise of transformative mRNA science to bring new medicines to patients,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a statement.

Moderna said the development effort would be led by its infectious disease–focused venture company, Valera. Launched in January 2015, Valera has focused exclusively on using Moderna’s platform to advance vaccines and therapeutics for prevention and treatment of viral, bacterial, and parasitic infectious diseases.

Valera’s efforts have resulted in the demonstration of preclinical efficacy of Moderna’s mRNA-based vaccines in multiple viral disease models, Moderna said.

In the partnership with the Gates Foundation, Valera will apply its mRNA vaccine platform as well as Moderna’s drug platform Messenger RNA Therapeutics™. Designed to produces human proteins, antibodies, and entirely novel protein constructs inside patient cells, the therapeutics are secreted or active intracellularly.

Just yesterday, Moderna said one Valera-developed infectious disease vaccine, mRNA 1440, is the subject of a Phase I study that has begun in Europe. Another, mRNA 1850, is the subject of an IND filed with the FDA, with a Phase I study expected to begin later in the first quarter. Moderna has not disclosed the targets and indications for either vaccine, nor for a third vaccine candidate, mRNA 1566, which the company has licensed to Merck & Co.

Moderna last year completed the largest funding event among privately held early-stage drug and diagnostic developers last year, raising $450 million in a private investment round.