Stéphane Bancel suggests Moderna could be open to out-licensing if sales struggle

A critical tenet of Moderna’s business so far has been having sole rights over virtually every clinical-stage asset in the pipeline. That soon may change depending on sales moving forward.

“If we have to, we will be open, of course, to partnerships [for] some of those programs,” CEO Stéphane Bancel told analysts on a third-quarter earnings call. Any fervor to out-license some programs is contingent on how sales look, explained Bancel, who didn't expand on which programs are most likely to be up for grabs. 

Moderna projected $4 billion in sales in 2024 and a “return to growth” in 2025 as part of its earnings presentation. The CEO's comments on partnerships followed a question about how much flexibility the company will have in adjusting R&D and SG&A spending in 2025, which the company guided as being flat to down, “with ability to flex.” Bancel said partnership considerations were incorporated into the R&D spending guidance. 

The collaboration considerations come as Moderna is dealing with the same COVID vaccine sales crunch that’s hit fellow manufacturers like Pfizer and BioNTech. The company had to write off $1.3 billion in excess or obsolete products and reframed its guidance to project “at least” $6 billion in vaccine sales, assuming 50 million doses in the U.S. market. It’s a notable change from the $6-8 billion projection maintained for much of the year. 

Only a few weeks ago, Bancel was more bullish on sales. “Do I really [think it's] going to be as low as 50 [million doses]? I don't," he told Fierce Pharma in an interview back in September. 

Moderna is also slashing manufacturing costs, which in the short term will translate to $1.6 billion in charges through the end of the year. CFO Jamey Mock committed to completing facilities in the U.K., Canada and Australia, but that no more capacity was needed for respiratory-related production.