|BY DAVID MITCHELL AND SARAH KAMINER BOURLAND
As the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. surges past 1 million, the invention of a vaccine is the key to bringing a halt to the pandemic. One of the most promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates comes from Moderna Therapeutics.
Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine was the first to enter clinical trials in the U.S., but the company did not accomplish this alone. Moderna’s path is being supported by up to $480 million in taxpayer funds along with considerable scientific support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Here’s how it all happened.
Moderna’s mRNA technology is based on a seminal university research paper that relied heavily on taxpayer-funded grants from the NIH. The company received another significant public boost between 2016 and 2017, when the federal government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) awarded the company over $100 million to develop their mRNA technology against the Zika virus. That underlying technology is being adapted and put to work against COVID-19.
Fast forward to April 2020, when Moderna was awarded the largest COVID-19 drug development contract with BARDA to date for the pursuit of its vaccine. The contract provides Moderna with up to $483 million in taxpayer funds to develop its vaccine through FDA approval and scale up of manufacturing.
Taxpayers have further invested in Moderna’s vaccine R&D as its clinical trial is being funded and conducted by the NIH.
As taxpayers, we applaud government funding aimed at accelerating vaccine and treatment development. As patients, we are cheering for Moderna and scientists all over the world as they strive to invent a COVID-19 vaccine. But we are concerned that the funding given to Moderna fails to include provisions to ensure a fair price.
We believe pharmaceutical companies should be able to make a fair profit off of COVID-19 drugs, but as partners in the scientific and funding processes, American taxpayers deserve a say in the price.
If adapting Moderna’s existing vaccine technology to COVID-19 were an arduous process, requiring years of researchers’ time and countless unsuccessful experiments, the company would likely claim — as most drug companies do — that a high price is necessary to cover the cost of failures.
In reality, it took only 42 days after the virus’s genetic sequence was published for the company to create the vaccine. And they didn’t do it alone; according to Moderna, NIH scientists helped design the vaccine, and manufacturing for the trial was financed by the non-profit organization Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI).
This private-public partnership, and others like it, may be the key to ending this pandemic. But we believe that any publicly funded vaccine requires transparency, accountability, a fair price, and reasonable profits.
The government must ensure that corporations don’t cash in on a crisis.
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