Why mRNA is the Next Big Disruptor for Life Sciences

Why mRNA is the Next Big Disruptor for Life Sciences

Part one of a three-part series on mRNA innovation

By Ryan Doornbos, Managing Director, Tim Taylor, Vice President & Shiv Nayyar, Director | September 9th, 2021

Less than a year ago, the world had never seen an approved mRNA therapy. Fast forward to today and nearly every biopharmaceutical manufacturer has announced, alone or in partnership, their entrée into mRNA-based research and development. Clearly, the race is on. And the race results could significantly impact how mRNA-based treatments go to trial, go to market, and transform patients’ lives. Which biopharma start-ups and pharmaceutical giants will pull ahead, and which ones will fade at the finish line?

As consultants and researchers who work with some of the leading life sciences companies, we’ve been thinking a lot about what mRNA technology means for our clients, including brand leaders, sales and innovation teams, and marketers. Regardless of your company’s size, specialization, or products, chances are that mRNA is the next big disruptor.

With this in mind, we wanted to offer a perspective on the next generation of mRNA innovation and its impact across three key areas. In this three-part series we’ll look at the rapidly evolving mRNA landscape and the implications for:

First up, what you should know about how mRNA is shaking up mergers, acquisitions, and investments.

How mRNA Innovation is Shaking Up Business Development for Small Biopharma & Big Pharmaceuticals

COVID-19 disrupted so many aspects of our lives. Apart from our waistlines, it changed how we socialize, travel, learn, and work. While some changes were provisional, others are here to stay. When a temporary disruption becomes an accepted norm, it is usually because the change is supported by a technology that solves an unaddressed problem and makes us more efficient. Take, for example, Electronic Health Records (EHR). This technology solved a real problem: replacing the clutter and often illegible paper records. The result was quicker and higher quality patient care. In the pharmaceutical industry, mRNA is now doing something similar.

In the past year we’ve seen thousands of articles explaining, to varying degrees of success, what mRNA is, how it works, why it matters. The common thread in the literature is that

The speed at which we will be able to develop and test mRNA vaccines will be unprecedented. The urgency of the pandemic meant that what used to take a decade shrunk to less than 12 months. While lab-to-market timelines may not be quite this fast for future mRNA therapies, we still expect successful mRNA therapies to move through to regulatory approval significantly faster than traditional therapies.

Nonetheless, investors are hungry for an mRNA play in their portfolios. These three benefits -- speed, scale, and better results -- are making mRNA the hottest commodity in the pharmaceutical industry. Wall Street is so bullish on mRNA that in early August 2021, Moderna’s valuation surpassed that of well-established companies such as Amgen, GSK, and Merck.

More than $4 billion in mRNA investments have been announced by the traditional vaccine players over the last six months alone. While it seems everyone wants in on mRNA, business strategies differ. Take, for example, Pfizer and BioNTech. After its successful partnership with BioNTech, Pfizer announced plans to forge its own path and build in-house mRNA capabilities. They are investing an additional $600 million in mRNA research. Meanwhile, the other large traditional vaccine brand owners with less mRNA momentum are vying for smaller partners. GSK has partnered with CureVac, and Sanofi announced plans to acquire mRNA pioneer Translate Bio for $3.2 billion. Both are banking on nimble innovators to deliver. Prior to its recent acquisition, Sanofi had already pledged $476 million annually for in-house mRNA-based vaccine development. Indeed, three of the four largest pre-pandemic vaccine brand-owners now have some sort of foray into mRNA. They see where the future is going. We can assume it's only a matter of time before the remaining player - Merck - makes its own announcement.

The new entrants are aggressively expanding their footprint. Moderna plans to invest up to $400 million by year’s end to increase its COVID vaccine production capacity to 1.4 billion doses. The company is also in talks to invest $200 million in a manufacturing facility in South Korea. BioNTech is spending an additional $200 million on R&D and has at least six candidates entering clinical trials for various cancers.

The breakneck pace of mRNA innovation is driving the speed of business development. Grail Insights helps businesses chart their mRNA play through solutions such as Funding Trackers and Tech Scans. A Funding Tracker can help you know where fertile opportunities lie and when they are edging past their prime. Tech Scans help clients understand where to play and how to win. A Tech Scan looks at disruptive technologies early in their development and predicts their desirability, feasibility, and viability.

Reach out at hello@grailinsights.com to learn about Funding Trackers, Tech Scans, and other ways we can help you stay on the right side of disruption.

Next in the series, a look at mRNA clinical activity, how mRNA is transforming the traditional clinical trial model, and the potential impact on your business.

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