By Carolyn Y. Johnson
May 18, 2020 at 6:58 PM EDT
Moderna, the Massachusetts biotechnology company behind a leading effort to create a coronavirus vaccine, announced promising early results Monday from its first human safety tests.
The eagerly-awaited data provide a first look at one of the eight vaccines worldwide that have begun human testing. The data have not been published in a scientific journal and are only a preliminary step toward showing the experimental vaccine is safe and effective.
The company’s stock, along with the Dow Jones industrial average, soared on the report that eight participants who received low and medium doses of Moderna’s vaccine had blood levels of virus-fighting antibodies that were similar or greater than those in recovered covid-19 patients. That suggests, but doesn’t prove, that it triggers some level of immunity.
Moderna’s announcement comes days after one of its directors, Moncef Slaoui, stepped down from the board to become chief scientist for Operation Warp Speed, a White House initiative to speed up vaccine development. Watchdogs called out Slaoui’s apparent conflict of interest. Filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission show Slaoui’s stock options in Moderna are worth more than $10 million with the company’s share price at $66.69. In regular trading Monday, Moderna’s stock soared almost 20 percent to $80.
Moderna also received $483 million from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a federal agency. Moderna has also partnered with a contract development and manufacturing firm, Lonza, and Slaoui stepped down from that company’s board on Monday.
Slaoui will divest his Moderna stock holdings, effective Tuesday morning, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services said Monday afternoon. He will donate the value the Moderna stock gained since Thursday, before the announcement of his position leading Operation Warp Speed, to cancer research.