Moderna is ready to spend billions in COVID-19 cash, and the famed biotech has sights set on gene editing

Moderna has found a direction to volley their mountain of COVID-19 vaccine cash: gene editing.

Executives revealed during a second-quarter earnings call Thursday that Moderna is ready to “expand our horizons” with external technologies or products. Read: They’re ready to start buying.

Plenty of speculation has built up around Moderna’s dealmaking strategy as the biotech pulled in billions with its COVID-19 vaccine. The shot, which the company now aims to market as Spikevax, is expected to bring in about $20 billion this year based on existing orders.

Moderna is interested in new opportunities in nucleic acid technologies, gene therapy, gene editing and mRNA, CEO Stéphane Bancel said during the conference call. The company—which literally trades under the symbol MRNA—is also interested in new delivery technologies that could expand its existing mRNA work.

RELATE: Moderna abandons mid-stage mRNA cancer asset in favor of similar triple-attack candidate

Stephane Bancel
Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel (Moderna)

“We would be interested in technology licenses and/or in development candidate licenses and/or, if it makes sense, M&A,” Bancel said. “You can count on us to be disciplined.”

One thing Moderna is not interested in is small or large molecule candidates, “even if they could complement our commercial portfolio,” the chief executive said, because “we love information molecules too much.”

Unsurprisingly, analysts wanted more on the gene editing news, although executives largely faced questions about COVID-19 vaccine boosters during the Q&A. Moderna President Stephen Hoge piped up to say the company has been watching the gene editing field closely and considering where its mRNA technology could help with “delivering gene-editing cargoes” to different tissues.

RELATED: Moderna, citing variants and waning immunity, expects COVID-19 boosters to become a fact of life

“We think it's the right time for us to start to expand in that direction,” Hoge said.  

Most likely, Moderna will start with hematopoietic stem cells, which is the company’s bread-and-butter delivery method.

Now, just who, or what, could Moderna buy?

The news that the famed biotech is on the hunt comes a few months after Intellia reported successful first-in-human results for a transthyretin (ATTR) amyloidosis therapy. RBC Capital Markets analyst Lucca Issi pointed out in a Thursday afternoon note to clients that Moderna’s chitchat about its business development plans sent a ripple through Intellia’s stock.

RELATED: With first-in-human trial results, Intellia shows the world that gene editing has arrived

Intellia’s shares—already strapped to a rocket ship thanks to the trial results in June—were hovering around the $140 range Thursday morning. The shares opened Friday at $168.

Other companies working on gene editing include CRISPR Therapeutics, Precision Biosciences, Beam Therapeutics and Sangamo Therapeutics.