Moderna stock falls by as much as 9.4% after report says late-stage coronavirus vaccine trial delayed

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Moderna‘s stock fell by as much as 9.4% in midday trading Thursday after a report said the biotech company’s late-stage trial for a potential coronavirus vaccine will be delayed, possibly by a few weeks.

The company, which is working with the National Institutes of Health, was expected to begin a phase 3 trial with 30,000 participants for its vaccine candidate later this month, pending the results from its mid-stage trial.

However, the company is making changes to the trial plan, which has pushed back the expected start date, according to health-care publication STAT News, citing an investigator. STAT News said it’s unclear how long the start date will be delayed. 

“My understanding was that they wanted to get the first vaccines given in July, and they say they’re still committed to do that,” one investigator told STAT News. “As best I can tell, they’re close to being on target for that.”

The shares recovered somewhat in afternoon trading, but they were still down by about 5%. 

Moderna’s experimental vaccine contains genetic material called messenger RNA, or mRNA. The mRNA is a genetic code that tells cells what to build — in this case, an antigen that may induce an immune response to the virus. It became the first candidate to enter a phase 1 human trial in March.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, that nation’s leading infectious disease expert, has often touted the potential vaccine. 

In response to the report Thursday, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel told CNBC’s Meg Tirrell, “we have always said July. And I confirm July.”

In May, the company released data from its early-stage trial, which showed the vaccine produced neutralizing antibodies, which researchers believe is necessary to build immunity to the virus, against Covid-19 in at least eight participants. The vaccine also produced binding antibodies in all of its participants.

The effort by Moderna is one of several working on a potential vaccine for Covid-19 which has infected more than 10 million people and killed at least 516,970, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. More than 100 vaccines are under development globally, according to the World Health Organization. At least 17 vaccines are already in clinical trials, according to the WHO. 

On Wednesday, Pfizer released positive results from its closely watched early-stage human trial of a coronavirus vaccine. 

The delay by Moderna could potentially set back its goal of delivering data on whether its vaccine is safe and effective by the end of the year. If all goes well with Moderna’s next trial, the vaccine could be available for public distribution by the end of December or early 2021.

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