Moderna's CMO Zaks quits for 'next leg of his career' after swift move to commercial focus

Moderna manufacturing site
(Moderna)

As Moderna ramps up its COVID-19 vaccine efforts and has made one of the speediest moves from a hyped-up preclinical biotech to a commercial entity hoping to help save the world, its chief medical officer, Tal Zaks, M.D., Ph.D., is set to leave for pastures new.

Zaks “will be leaving the company in late September” after six years at the biotech. Moderna quietly announced his exit near the end of its financials this morning, which focused heavily on its boosted manufacturing efforts for its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine as well as new trials against variants and for use in children.

Moderna said it has retained Russell Reynolds to “recruit for a new CMO with global and commercial experience,” coming after the company went from an early clinical biotech just a few months ago to today, when it has FDA emergency clearance for its pandemic shot and is scaling up the launch of its vaccine as it prepares to file several biologics license applications over the next few years.

COVID-19 is, however, just one of many targets the company is going after, with a swath of shots on multiple targets—including the chikungunya virus, autoimmune diseases, HIV and Zika vaccines—as well as work in immuno-oncology in its broad pipeline.

“I would like to thank Tal for his tremendous impact on Moderna’s success over the last six years. Tal joined us when we were a preclinical company,” said CEO Stéphane Bancel. “His guidance and contributions were important in helping Moderna get to where we are today.

“Through his leadership over the past year in Moderna’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tal has made a contribution that extends beyond Moderna to all of society. I have enjoyed having him as my partner and wish him all the best as he embarks on the next leg of his career.” It was not made public where Zaks will be moving to next.

Zaks leaves a rich man: He has earned tens of millions of dollars since the start of the pandemic last year, according to filings with the SEC, regularly selling shares that are allowed under the SEC’s rules and have seen him make around $1 million a week, but have earned the ire of some observers. This comes after Moderna’s stock has soared on its COVID vaccine promise, putting it in the Premier League alongside Pfizer/BioNTech, and nabbing billions in government cash for trials at the same time.

Moderna was up 3.5% premarket.