Moderna CEO says Covid-19 vaccines can be made even faster

The fourth and final day of the Bloomberg New Economy Forum is focusing on the future of health care around the globe in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 56 million people and killed over 1.3 million.

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The Thursday program kicked off with a session spotlighting virus hunters, who said early-warning systems are needed to prevent another pandemic.

Stephane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna Inc., whose vaccine was found to be 94.5% effective in a preliminary analysis of a large late-stage clinical trial, said more investment in early testing is needed. If so, vaccines could be created even faster.

Other speakers include Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and CEO of genetic testing firm 23andMe Inc.; Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization; Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund; and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies.

The forum opened with remarks from Justin B. Smith, CEO of Bloomberg Media and executive chair of Bloomberg New Economy. “This will not be the last pandemic to menace society,” he said.

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said even a modest investment in vaccines against the most-threatening viruses could help companies like his create inoculations much faster during the next emerging epidemic.

Moderna brought its Covid-19 vaccine to the verge of regulatory authorization in about 300 days. But if health authorities had invested in early testing of vaccines against 10 or 20 of the most-threatening emerging viruses, Moderna could shave several months off those timelines in the next epidemic, he said.

During the panel, he said Moderna’s vaccine trial was on track for getting final results from its big trial in a week or so.

“What makes me more excited is the fact that 11 people with severe disease, they were all on placebo,” Bancel said. That suggests that not only will the vaccine prevent almost all cases but that the remaining few infections will be mild.

People still need to employ public-health measures like wearing masks, Bancel said. The vaccine “is not a silver bullet,” Bancel said.

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Three of the world’s top virus hunters said that nations need to invest in systems that would detect emerging viruses before they infect people and spread around the world.

“We haven’t had the kind of early-warning system and investment in this kind of early-warning system that we’ve needed from the very beginning,” said Anne Rimoin, a professor or epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “We really need to be able to invest in protecting ourselves from viruses.”

Rimoin spoke on a panel with Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance and Linfa Wang, director of the program in emerging infectious diseases at the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore.Viral outbreaks are “happening more frequently, they’re spreading quicker, they’re killing more people and they’re crushing our economies most substantially,” said Daszak. He estimated that there are 1.7 million unknown viruses in the world. It would cost over a $1 billion to identify 70% of them, but it would be money well spent, Daszak said potential emerging viruses should be viewed as a national security threats and tracked with the same intensity the government watches out for terrorist threats abroad, Daszak said.

After 9/11, the US government “tracked every single phone call coming into the US, a pretty revolutionary piece of surveillance,” Daszak said. “Why aren’t we doing that with pandemics?”

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