Blackstone bets $750M on Moderna's flu program as approval comes into view

Blackstone Life Sciences is making a $750 million bet on Moderna’s influenza vaccine program as part of the investment platform’s push to “support innovative mRNA technology.”

Under the terms of the agreement—announced ahead of Moderna’s annual Vaccines Day later this morning—Blackstone will provide “up to” $750 million to fund the biotech’s flu vaccines work, in return for an undisclosed amount of “cumulative” commercial milestone payments and “low-single-digit” royalties on any approved products.

Moderna will be using the funding infusion to subsidize the program rather than swell the amount of money available to its flu research.

“Moderna expects to recognize the funding as a reduction in research and development expenses and will retain full rights and control of the company's flu program,” the biotech explained. “This funding does not result in any change to Moderna's 2024 research and development framework of approximately $4.5 billion.”

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said the funding agreement would contribute to the company’s goal of launching “multiple vaccine products in the next few years.”

“Achieving this ambition requires substantial investment in late-stage studies and we are excited to welcome Blackstone and their innovative financing model,” Bancel added.

Moderna’s flu program suffered some initial setbacks, with a previous version of the seasonal flu candidate mRNA-1010 failing to meet the noninferiority threshold for two influenza B strains a year ago. But by September 2023 the company was back on track, with an updated formula of the shot besting GSK’s Fluarix in phase 3.

With an extension of that study ongoing in older adults, Moderna is in discussions with regulators about getting the vaccine to market and confirmed today that it intends to file for approval this year.

The biotech also has a combination COVID and flu vaccine, dubbed MRNA-1083, which has proven its worth in the clinic, matching or beating two approved flu shots and the company’s own Spikevax COVID vaccine in terms of developing antibody titers. The combo shot is now in a phase 3 study with a readout penciled in for later this year.

The $750 million on offer is a substantial slice of the more than $8 billion in assets that Blackstone currently has under management. Nicholas Galakatos, Ph.D., global head of Blackstone Life Sciences, cited today’s “landmark collaboration” as another example of the financing firm’s “long-standing strategy to partner with the world’s leading life science companies to advance their critical path vaccines, medicines and medical technologies to patients.”