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Moderna is working toward a single shot for both COVID and flu protection

April 27, 2021, 6:51 PM UTC

Come for the COVID immunization. Stay for protection against the seasonal flu.

That’s the goal that Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel has set out for his company, one of the pioneering developers of effective COVID vaccines, which he shared during a discussion at Fortune‘s 2021 virtual Brainstorm Health conference on Tuesday.

Bancel said the company hopes to use its messenger RNA (mRNA)-based technology, which can be more adaptable to changing viral strains, to knock out several pathogenic birds with one stone.

“Our vision is to develop a high efficacy flu vaccine, and then merge it with COVID variables,” he said during an interview with Fortune editor-in-chief Clifton Leaf. “So in the same single shot, you get a high efficacy flu vaccine, the appropriate virus variant for that given year, and you walk into your your CVS or go to your [general practitioner], you get one dose and you’re all set for flu and for COVID.”

mRNA-based therapeutics take the biological process back by one step. Rather than manufacture massive amounts of antigens in petri dishes, these sorts of technologies simply rely on coding your actual cells to perform the functions that a fully-constructed drug usually would. At Brainstorm Health, Bancel likened it to programming your body. And a program has boundless potential.

“mRNA is a piece of software,” he said. “So we know how to technically put several mRNA to deal with several strains of flu and several mRNA dealing with several strains of COVID variants into a single dose. So you just need one shot, and you’ll be protected.”

Moderna has far wider ambitions. Just one year ago, many in the biotechnology investor class scoffed at the thought of an mRNA-based therapeutic or vaccine. The eyes of that nascent industry were too big for its stomach, the thinking went. How times have changed.

The firm is working on products ranging from infectious disease drugs to protect against Zika to cancer vaccines. And the malleability of the mRNA platform, as Bancel said, could make it far easier to deal with emerging variant strains of the coronavirus and pathogens beyond.

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