When you’re talking about the Gates Foundation, it isn’t too out of the ordinary for grant awards to soar into the eight- and even nine-figure range. So, its $20 million grant to Moderna Therapeutics to support its continuing development of a novel but promising HIV prevention therapy isn’t particularly extraordinary.
But what is unusual about Gates’ partnership with Moderna is that the total potential commitment from the foundation could reach upwards of $100 million—which, by my math, accounts for around 70 percent of the Gates Foundation’s HIV/AIDS grants for all of last year.
Technically, the Gates Foundation’s partnership with Moderna is through the company’s infectious disease venture, Valera. Launched in early 2015, Valera focuses its work exclusively on developing and advancing vaccines and therapeutics for infectious diseases. In early 2016, Moderna announced that it was already conducting a Phase 1 study in Europe for its mRNA drug platform targeting infectious diseases. At the same time, the company also announced the filing of an investigational new drug application with the FDA for a second mRNA drug platform also targeting infectious diseases. Very shortly thereafter, Gates jumped on board with its initial commitment of up to $20 million.
The grant wil support the continuing development and evaluation of Moderna’s mRNA-based antibody therapeutics for HIV prevention as well as fund its first-in-human Phase 1 clinical study. Moderna and Gates have an additional agreement that includes funding from Gates of up to $100 million to “support the development of additional mRNA-based projects for various infectious diseases.”
Of course, if you know anything about the Gates Foundation, you know that while its grantmaking covers a wide range of pressing global health and development challenges, there is one major tie that binds nearly all of those giving programs together—poor and marginalized populations. Its latest give to Moderna is not an exception, as the company’s prevention therapeutics related to HIV and other infectious diseases are expected to be affordable if and when they hit the market.
What makes this one of the more interesting Gates HIV-related grants is not only the potential of $100 million add-on, but the possibility of Moderna’s therapeutics targeting other infectious diseases. The specific diseases they are targeting or plan to target have yet to be disclosed. However, we’ll be curious to see if those therapies will focus on the same global maladies the Gates Foundation has been seeking for years to exterminate—or at the very least, prevent—like pneumonia, malaria, and tuberculosis.