41. Moderna Therapeutics

Enabling the body to heal itself

Founders: Noubar Afeyan, Robert Langer, Kenneth Chien, Derrick Rossi
Launched: 2010
Funding: $863.9 million
Valuation: $3 billion
Disrupting: Pharmaceuticals, biotechnology
Rival: N/A

Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna Therapeutics
Source: Moderna Therapeutics
Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna Therapeutics

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech firm Moderna Therapeautics has been quietly developing its messenger RNA — or mRNA — technology since its founding in 2010. Now the company is testing that knowledge in humans. Simply put, mRNA gives the body's cells the instructions, or code, they need to create the proteins and antibodies to fight all kinds of diseases, from diabetes and heart disease to certain cancers.


In January the company began a phase I trial to see if its mRNA technology can treat an undisclosed infectious disease. Later this year, it expects to be in human trials in partnership with AstraZeneca, with a treatment designed to use mRNA to repair heart damage. Earlier this year, the company also announced a global health partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop mRNA therapies to help prevent HIV infection.

"The idea for Moderna emerged from an exploratory project conducted by Flagship VentureLabs in 2010, researching whether messenger RNA could be used as a novel and unprecedentedly broad class of human therapeutics." -Stephane Bancel, CEO

Among the advantages that Moderna has over other early-stage biotech companies is that it can focus on multiple diseases at once rather than the typical and time-consuming path of defining a drug therapy for each discrete disease. Investors — and partners — find this incredibly attractive.

The company has raised more than $860 million in financing and has strategic partnerships in place with pharma giant Merck for infectious diseases, AstraZeneca for cardiovascular disease and Alexion for rare diseases. Moderna now has about 320 employees but anticipates that number will be closer to 500 by year-end.

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