Early investors key to Moderna’s successful vaccine, says multi-billionaire co-founder

The billionaire co-founder of vaccine maker Moderna says that early investors in the biotech startup should share the credit for the development of the company’s coronavirus vaccine.

Professor Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT and serial entrepreneur, told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age the pandemic had shown the true dividends from backing an early stage company.

“I feel we are incredibly fortunate that companies like Moderna and BioNtech existed [when the pandemic started]. If those companies weren’t here I can only imagine where we’d be,” he said.

“I give the investors a lot of credit - that was key. A lot of people say the United States [funding] was responsible for a lot of things Moderna did, but really, the investors, they put the money in way before.”

Dr Langer, who is estimated by Forbes to have a net worth of $US4 billion ($5.5 billion), will be a keynote speaker at the 2021 Sohn Hearts and Minds virtual conference in December. He will address investors who are hungry for advice on life sciences stocks as the sector booms after a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

Other investing legends including Berkshire Hathaway’s Charlie Munger will also share insights with attendees, with all profits going to medical research.

Dr Langer is no stranger to launching successful biotechs. He holds about 800 issued and pending patents and has been involved in the founding of several well-known businesses - the most well known outside of Moderna being cosmetics imprint Living Proof with Jennifer Aniston, which was eventually acquired by Unilever.

He acknowledges the life of a research scientist is not always pleasant, however, and a business needs much more than great science to succeed on the global stage. Beyond scientific potential companies need intellectual property rights, a cutting-edge platform that can be used for more than one treatment, and access to strong business minds.

“To make a great company you need all of them,” Dr Langer said.

Then there’s the backing of early investors, which proved critical to allowing companies such as Moderna to develop the technology that was used for the vaccine when the pandemic hit.

In Australia, just one key institutional investor was in early: Platinum Asset Management’s healthcare fund backed Moderna from its initial public offering in 2018.

Moderna is also set to develop closer ties with Australia after confirming it plans to base its Asia Pacific medical affairs team here.

Dr Langer said the company wants to be on every continent. “Moderna’s intent is to be a fully global entity - the goal is to help as many people as possible.”

COVID-19 has thrust Moderna onto the world stage and it has become critical to the recovery from the pandemic. The company’s shares have risen 1779 per cent return since it listed on the US tech-heavy Nasdaq index in late 2018.

Despite the success of a variety of vaccines, equitable access to doses has remained a challenge over the past 18 months. Dr Langer said the distribution of doses was the challenge for the world rather than the number available. “There is an enormous number of doses not being used,” he said.

He believes there has been a lack of cohesive global leadership on the path to recovery.“You need some kind of leadership worldwide - and I don’t think it’s been there.”

Professor Robert Langer is a keynote speaker at the Sohn Hearts & Minds 2021 Virtual Conference on December 3. Tickets are on sale now at sohnheartsandminds.com.au

 

This article was originally posted by The Sydney Morning Herald here.

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