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Moderna’s unlikely journey to rivaling Big Pharma giants’ valuations

August 5, 2021, 10:48 PM UTC

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Happy Thursday, readers.

Moderna—you may have heard of them with the whole pioneering COVID vaccine thing—reported its second quarter 2021 earnings on Thursday. While shares of the decade-old biotech dipped modestly (less than 1%) in trading, the company still beat Wall Street earnings expectations thanks to the surging demand for its marquee product in the midst of the pandemic.

You can read my full analysis of Moderna’s earnings, including: the prospect of future COVID vaccine sales, updates on how effective Moderna believes its jab is against coronavirus and its various mutations over the course of time, and where the hunt for effective boosters against strains like the Delta variant stands, right over here. But it’s also worth taking a look at the company’s staggering growth in stock price and market capitalization since its December 2018 Nasdaq IPO, which set all-time records for a biotech at the time with a $7.5 billion valuation.

That seems like positively small potatoes less than three years later. Now, Moderna is valued at more than $167 billion, surpassing the market cap of biopharma industry titans like Bristol Myers Squibb and Sanofi, and inching up towards the likes of Merck with its $191 billion valuation (though still not quite on the same level as giants like Johnson & Johnson or Swiss drug maker Roche). The company’s shares are up nearly 2,140% since going public.

That’s a stunning feat given that many life science industry analysts and investors doubted that mRNA-based technology like Moderna’s would ever lead to any tangible, useful, or massive revenue-generating products on the market just over a year ago. The tremendous pace of growth also helps explain Moderna’s decision to act like a true Big Pharma firm and initiate $1 billion in stock buybacks over the next two years.

According to Moderna, the company raked in $5.9 billion in product sales reaped for the first half of 2021 after delivering 302 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, including 199 million doses in the three months ended June 30.

But is this a one-trick pony situation? Or will the pandemic and a growing market thanks to boosters, more buy-in from developing nations which need vaccines, and an expected $20 billion in COVID vaccine sales for both this year and 2022 keep Moderna humming for long enough to get more of its experimental products on to the market? That’s the long-term question investors and the company must eventually tackle.

Read on for the day’s news, and see you again next Thursday.

Sy Mukherjee
sy.mukherjee@fortune.com
@the_sy_guy

DIGITAL HEALTH

Yelp wants to make it easier for businesses to list vaccine requirements. With indoor masking at public venues and businesses making a comeback in the wake of the Delta variant, Yelp wants to make it easier for businesses to communicate their specific safety protocols via new options on its platform. "To help consumers understand how a business is currently operating as pandemic guidelines continue to evolve, today, Yelp is announcing two new, free attributes – 'Proof of vaccination required' and 'All staff fully vaccinated,'" wrote the company in a blog post Thursday. "Users will be able to filter by these attributes when searching for local businesses on Yelp and will easily see 'Proof of vaccination required' indicated on restaurant, food, and nightlife businesses in search results."

INDICATIONS

Eli Lilly leverages Biogen's Alzheimer's win to plot its own victory. Following Biogen's unlikely and still-controversial Alzheimer's drug approval, Eli Lilly is following suit, announcing that it will seek FDA approval of its experimental donanemab. Since Biogen's drug hasn't proven robust efficacy in preventing or slowing down cognitive decline, but won approval based on the treatment Aduhelm's ability to cut down on Alzheimer's-linked amyloid plaque in the brain, Eli Lilly figures it can follow suit with a drug that's just as, if not more, effective in slashing the levels of this biological gunk. "If you believe that lowering amyloid plaque is a good thing to do, you're going to want the drug that lowers amyloid plaque the most," said Lilly chief scientific officer Daniel Skovronsky on a quarterly investor call regarding the decision. (Reuters)

THE BIG PICTURE

Insurers don't expect the pandemic to fuel health spending next year. A survey of health insurers in 13 states and the District of Columbia finds that they don't expect the COVID-19 pandemic to fuel higher health care spending or have much of an impact on insurers' bottom lines, according to the health care think tank Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). "Of the 75 insurer filings submitted in these states, only 13 say the COVID-19 pandemic will have an upward effect on their costs, with most of those stating that the impact would be less than 1%. This includes seven plans in New York, three plans in Connecticut, one plan in Tennessee, one plan in Michigan, and one plan in Vermont," write the report authors. "Three insurer filings said the pandemic would have a downward impact on their costs. About half (37 insurers) say the pandemic will have no net impact on their 2022 costs. The remaining insurers either did not specify a COVID-19 cost impact or redacted it." (Kaiser Family Foundation)

REQUIRED READING

Amazon delays corporate office return to 2022by Amena Saad

New U.S. COVID cases soar 139%by Maria Aspan & Nicolas Rapp

Novavax shares pop after clinching COVID vaccine supply deal with EUby Sophie Mellor

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