Is Moderna prepping for biotech's biggest-ever IPO?

Modera Therapeutics is one of a select group of biotech "unicorns." (jensunge/Pixabay)

Already cash-rich, Moderna Therapeutics is planning an initial public offering to extend its resources even further and push its messenger RNA-based drugs through development.

A STAT report—citing people familiar with the matter—suggests Moderna could be just weeks away from its Wall Street debut and has retained Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley to help with the process. It adds, however, that the planning is still in the early stages and the IPO could take some time to arrange.

Moderna—one of a select group of privately held "unicorn" biotech companies with valuations above $1 billion—has been spectacularly successful in raising cash through private rounds, including a $500 million series G in February that gave it $1.4 billion in the bank and took its overall fundraising tally north of $2 billion.

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That was followed a few months later by a $125 million top-up from Merck & Co. for a KRAS-targeted cancer vaccine alliance that took the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based unicorn’s valuation up to around $7.5 billion, and it is now looking for a post-IPO valuation of more than $10 billion, says STAT—which would make it the largest-ever IPO for a biotech.

With 21 mRNA candidates in development and 10 in clinical trials, Moderna will need deep pockets to advance its pipeline, which is currently led by AstraZeneca-partnered AZD8601, a VEGF-A drug which is in phase 2 for heart failure, as well as to build the manufacturing infrastructure critical to its long-term plans.

In July, the company opened a 200,000-square-foot production unit in Norwood, Massachusetts, to supply material for its clinical trials programs at an estimated cost of $110 million, with the potential to expand further once it nears the commercialization stage.

Following AZD8601 in the pipeline are phase 1 vaccines for cancer and viral infections such as chikungunya and Zika, as well as preclinical candidates for rare diseases including Fabry disease and phenylketonuria.

Last year, Moderna told FierceBiotech it had decided to switch from its venture-based R&D model, with separate business units operating as silos, to a therapeutic area model focusing on infectious diseases, immuno-oncology and rare diseases.

The move followed a series of articles in the media last year questioning its high valuation and, judging by the fundraising since then, was well received by investors.