HHS Awards Moderna $176 Million to Develop Pandemic-Ready Influenza Vaccine

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“Adding this technology to our pandemic flu toolkit enhances our ability to be nimble and quick against the circulating strains and their potential variants,” said Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the HSS.

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will award $176 million to pharmaceutical and biotechnology company Moderna for the development of an mRNA-based pandemic influenza vaccine, according to a news release.1

Individuals who received flu vaccine / wavebreak3 - stock.adobe.com

Individuals who received flu vaccine / wavebreak3 - stock.adobe.com

Building on the technology proven effective in its COVID-19 vaccine, this award supports Moderna in establishing additional capabilities to rapidly develop and manufacture mRNA vaccines in response to future pandemics. The project will utilize existing facilities for large-scale mRNA production and ongoing seasonal flu vaccine research.

Key Takeaways

  • The US government is awarding Moderna $176 million to develop an mRNA-based vaccine for pandemic influenza.
  • This technology was successful with COVID-19 and offers advantages like faster development and easier adaptation to new strains.
  • This project aims to be proactive in building tools to combat potential influenza threats.

“We have successfully taken lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and used them to better prepare for future public health crises. As part of that, we continue to develop new vaccines and other tools to help address influenza and bolster our pandemic response capabilities,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in the news release.1 “Importantly, we are doing this work in partnership with some of the nation’s leading scientists and clinicians. The Biden-Harris Administration won’t stop until we have everything we need to prepare for pandemics and other public health emergencies that impact the American public.”

The money will come through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR). According to the HSS, a fair pricing agreement between ASPR and Moderna will ensure equitable access to the vaccines.

READ MORE: CDC, ACIP Announce Vaccine Recommendations and Updates

Unlike traditional vaccines that require growing and inactivating a virus, mRNA vaccines can be designed and manufactured much faster.2 This is because they only require the genetic sequence of the virus to be modified, making them ideal for rapid response during pandemics and complementing existing vaccine technologies.

What’s more, mRNA vaccines can be easily adapted to target new variants of a virus. This is especially important for influenza, a frequently mutating virus. Advantages associated with this adaptability were demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic, where mRNA vaccines were successfully adjusted to protect against dominant variants such as Omicron and Delta.

A 2022 study in Lancet Infectious Diseases showed that COVID-19 vaccinations prevented an estimated 14.4 million deaths in the first year of vaccination alone.3 This highlights the tremendous potential of a widely available influenza vaccine to protect against future outbreaks.

“The award made today is part of our longstanding commitment to strengthen our preparedness for pandemic influenza,” said Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response, in the release.1 “Adding this technology to our pandemic flu toolkit enhances our ability to be nimble and quick against the circulating strains and their potential variants.”

With funding in tow, Moderna plans to collect safety and immunogenicity data through clinical trials to support FDA licensure and potential mass-production.

The initiative to create a pandemic-ready influenza vaccine began in 2023 when BARDA issued a request to Moderna and other companies to develop mRNA vaccines to prepare for potential public health emergencies caused by influenza viruses. One such strain that warrants this preparation is avian influenza A(H5N1), which returned to the public spotlight in April of this year when a dairy farmer tested positive for the virus.4

Although the CDC has reassured the public that the risk to public health from H5N1 is still low, work by Moderna will strengthen preparedness for potential influenza threats of its kind.

Moderna’s award expands BARDA’s Influenza and Emerging Infectious Diseases Division’s medical countermeasure portfolio. Since 2005, BARDA has been awarding contracts to support the development of a fourth influenza vaccine platform in addition to egg-, cell-, and recombinant protein-based approaches used for production of existing, licensed influenza vaccines.

READ MORE: Immunization Resource Center

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References
1. HHS provides $176 million to develop pandemic influenza mRNA-based vaccine. News release. US Department of Health and Human Services. July 2, 2024. Accessed July 3, 2024. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2024/07/02/hhs-provides-176-million-develop-pandemic-influenza-mrna-based-vaccine.html#:~:text=The%20U.S.%20Department%20of%20Health,mRNA%2Dbased%20pandemic%20influenza%20vaccine.
2. What makes an RNA vaccine different from a conventional vaccine? Fact sheet. Pfizer. October 7, 2022. Accessed July 3, 2024. https://www.pfizer.com/news/articles/what_makes_an_rna_vaccine_different_from_a_conventional_vaccine
3. Watson OJ, Barnsley G, Toor J, Hogan AB, Winskill P, Ghani AC. Global impact of the first year of COVID-19 vaccination: a mathematical modelling study [published correction appears in Lancet Infect Dis. 2023 Oct;23(10):e400. doi: 10.1016/S1473-3099(23)00566-2]. Lancet Infect Dis. 2022;22(9):1293-1302. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(22)00320-6
4. Nowosielski B. Slideshow: Everything you need to know about the US bird flu outbreak. June 21, 2024. https://www.drugtopics.com/view/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-us-bird-flu-outbreak
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