Yes, Moderna is feeling the pressure to address monkeypox, R&D chief confirms

The pressure is on for Moderna to step up and save the day with a monkeypox vaccine, just as it did for COVID-19. But executives from the famed biotech insist the idea is still in the conceptual phase.

Analysts peppered Moderna’s leadership with questions on its second-quarter earnings call Wednesday about a potential monkeypox program and what Moderna needs to get that moving. The company announced plans back in May to turn its R&D engine toward the emerging viral threat but has yet to commit to anything beyond the preclinical work.

In the meantime, the World Health Organization (WHO) has sounded the alarm of the growing threat by naming monkeypox a public health emergency. Doses of the available vaccine called Jynneos from Bavarian Nordic are in short supply for the time being.

President Stephen Hoge, M.D., who serves as head of R&D at Moderna, confirmed the company is feeling the pressure of low vaccine supply and the recent WHO comments. He said the goal for Moderna would be to help with the current supply but also address the long-term public health needs for monkeypox.

“We're obviously very aware of the monkeypox concern and obviously very sensitive to recent announcements,” said Hoge. “What we are looking to do is understand if we were to develop that program, how would we move it.”

Moderna President Stephen Hoge
Stephen Hoge, M.D. (Moderna)

If Moderna were to find a candidate to move into further development, Hoge said the goal would be to do so “very quickly.”

“Our ability to rapidly scale has been demonstrated,” Hoge said, no doubt referring to the fast pace at which the COVID-19 shot Spikevax was developed to meet the global need of the coronavirus pandemic. “We would really be doing it to try and help generate a public health counter insurance.”

One challenge for Moderna, and anyone else looking to develop a new monkeypox vaccine, is developing the right clinical endpoints for a phase 1 clinical trial to test the candidate, Hoge noted. To do that, Moderna will need to engage with regulators to figure out exactly how to design that study, and Hoge said those conversations will be happening.

With that said, Hoge stressed that “there are other even larger public health threats right now”—including COVID, which continues to infect people across the globe.

Once Moderna has clarity on endpoints and whether it has a viable candidate for monkeypox, Hoge promised an update. But for now, “it's premature to say more.”