Moderna's stock price skyrocketed as much as 30% on Monday after the biotech company announced promising early results for its coronavirus vaccine. As ordinary investors piled in, two insiders were quietly heading for the exits.
Moderna's chief financial officer and chief medical officer executed options and sold nearly $30 million of shares combined on Monday and Tuesday, SEC filings reviewed by CNN Business show.
Moderna is an American biotech company focused on drug discovery and drug development based exclusively on messenger RNA (mRNA). Moderna is attempting to insert synthetic mRNA into the living cells of patients that would reprogram their cells to create their own therapies and vaccines, rather than being created externally and injected as with conventional medicines. It is a novel technique abandoned by several large pharmaceutical and biotech companies which were unable to overcome the dangerous side-effects of getting RNA into cells. As of May 2020, no mRNA drug has been approved for human use.
Moderna conducted mostly unsuccessful trials in traditional high-margin chronic therapeutic areas with AstraZeneca, and in orphan diseases with Alexion Pharmaceuticals. In 2014, Moderna moved to focus on lower-margin vaccines, given that an mRNA vaccine – efficacy issues aside – will always stimulate a level of antibody development in subjects. The strategic change led industry experts, and Moderna employees, to question the financial viability of the company.
In December 2018, Moderna became the largest biotech initial public offering (IPO) in history, raising $600 million for 8% of its shares, implying an overall valuation of $7.5 billion, and with cumulative losses of $1.5 billion and equity raised of $3.2 billion, since inception. The company has a reputation for secrecy and little of its work has ever been published, and none peer-reviewed or scientifically validated, an approach that was compared to Theranos by Nature. In May 2020, Moderna was valued at $30 billion but none of its mRNA molecules had reached large clinical trials, and several had failed due to side-effects.