Moderna follows AstraZeneca's lead, dumping 2 previously shared programs—plus 2 more

Right after making headlines for a phase 3 mRNA flu shot win, Moderna shared that it’s axing four clinical assets from its pipeline—including two that AstraZeneca dumped last year.

The Big Biotech cited pipeline prioritization being conducted “when needed” as the reason for the culls, according to a presentation (PDF) from Moderna’s R&D day.

First up on the chopping block was AZD8601, a therapy based on mRNA encoding vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF-A). Initially an AstraZeneca-partnered asset, the cardiovascular candidate became solely Moderna’s when the pharma dropped it from its pipeline last summer.

Before removing it from its pipeline, AstraZeneca shared data from a phase 2a clinical trial where investigators injected the mRNA directly into the muscular heart tissue of patients undergoing elective coronary artery bypass surgery. Seven patients received AZD8601 while four received a placebo.

AstraZeneca deemed the results positive, pointing to trends in the three exploratory endpoints, which looked at a biomarker that elevates in heart failure and functional patient-reported outcomes. The data offered early support for the use of AZD8601 to trigger production of VEGF-A, a paracrine factor involved in new blood vessel formation and the production of specialized cells that help repair the heart. However, despite those findings, AstraZeneca dropped the asset shortly after, with Moderna now following suit.

The second program to receive the boot was MEDI1191, a program that originated from AstraZeneca’s own MedImmune and one the pharma also chose to leave behind. The IL-12 mRNA therapy was being studied in combination with immune checkpoint inhibitor Imfinzi in a phase 1 study for patients with solid tumors. Data shared in April 2022 revealed that three of the 31 patients who received the combination had partial responses. But AstraZeneca dumped the program in the fall, with Moderna now making the same move about a year later. 

Next up was Moderna's mRNA-1653, a pediatric vaccine for preventing human metapneumovirus and parainfluenza virus 3 (hMPV/PIV3), which can cause respiratory tract illnesses in children and elderly adults. The wholly owned shot was assessed in a phase 1b study that enrolled 51 adults and children and wrapped at the end of 2022, though final data from the trial weren’t shared publicly.   

Lastly, Moderna discontinued plans for its first-generation combination COVID-19 and flu vaccine dubbed mRNA-1073. The phase 1/2 program assessing the shot in 553 adults was completed at the end of 2022, though top-line data haven’t been publicly disclosed either.   

The pipeline changes come just hours after the biotech announced a phase 3 win for an updated version of its mRNA flu vaccine, mRNA-1010. In February, the company modified the shot after its first version failed to meet the noninferiority threshold for the two influenza B strains. Now, the new version has met all the trial’s main goals, and Moderna’s CEO Stéphane Bancel is eyeing a launch as early as 2024.  

Editor's note: Fierce Biotech has reached out to Moderna about the program discontinuations and will update this article as more information becomes available.