Moderna is considering possible human testing of shots to fight mpox and bird flu this year, as the COVID-19 vaccine maker expands into more public health immunizations.
The company is exploring messenger RNA vaccines for a number of such pathogens, most of them in the early stages of development, President Stephen Hoge said Monday in an interview. Moderna expects to advance its vaccines for mpox and bird flu to clinical trials after completing initial work on them, he said.
A shot against mpox would be valuable in case outbreaks re-emerge, and the company sees bird flu as a “clear threat,” Hoge said. Moderna needs input from regulators and public health officials on how best to advance the vaccines as the need for them might not be immediate, he said.
Moderna could perform early clinical trials just to show the candidates are safe and potentially effective without advancing them through late-stage studies. From that point on, it isn’t clear whether the vaccine candidates would stay in Moderna’s pipeline to later go through final studies, or if governments would license and stockpile the shots based on early data, he said.
“Those are the questions that are not really for us to decide,” Hoge said. “They’re really for public health.”
Moderna is also planning to make two COVID-19 boosters for distribution later this year if countries can’t agree on which variant to target. It’s reasonably likely Moderna will need to update its shot ahead of the fall in the Northern Hemisphere as the virus continues to evolve, Hoge said, and it still isn’t clear which strain regulators will want to immunize against and whether different jurisdictions will be able to agree on one.
“It is definitely possible,” Hoge said. “We are planning for it. We are hoping it’s simpler than that.”
The mutating coronavirus has posed an ongoing challenge to regulators and vaccine makers trying to decide which one they should immunize against. Changes in the genetic makeup of the virus can render older shots useless, and its rapid alterations have outpaced drugmakers’ ability to design effective new shots.
Last year, the U.S. wanted updated boosters targeting different omicron variants than those that Europe and some other regions asked for. The conflicting guidance created a situation where Moderna and rival Pfizer were distributing two shots, some of which were only authorized in certain regions.
“It makes our life a lot more complicated,” Hoge said, explaining the company has to make projections about demand that may leave some customers short. Hoge said he’s hopeful there will be only one vaccine for the Northern Hemisphere this fall.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed that happens,” he said. “That will mean more vaccine doses available for the world.”