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18. Moderna Therapeutics

Going viral

Founders: Noubar Afeyan, Robert Langer, Kenneth Chien, Derrick Rossi
Launched: 2011
Funding: $1.9 billion
Valuation: $5 billion
Disrupting: Pharmaceuticals, biotechnology
Rival: N/A

George Kavallines

The idea of being able to instruct the body's cells to create proteins and antibodies to fight off all kinds of diseases could turn biotech on its head. That's the goal of Moderna Therapeutics, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company that's been developing its messenger RNA (mRNA) since its founding in 2010. Messenger RNA basically allows the body's cells to act like little factories, making the antibodies needed to battle diabetes, cancer, heart disease and certain viruses.

Read More FULL LIST: 2017 DISRUPTOR 50

The company, which has been fairly tight-lipped about its research, recently revealed that it's working on vaccines for the flu and Zika virus, as well as a therapy for heart failure.

One of the reasons why the scientific community and investors are so optimistic — the company has attracted nearly $2 billion in cash — is that unlike other biotech companies, Moderna can focus on a whole range of diseases to treat, rather than go through the long process of developing a drug or other therapy for each disease.

CEO Stéphane Bancel says the company has strategic agreements with AstraZeneca for treating cardiovascular diseases, Merck for infectious diseases, as well as with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, an agency of the Defense Department. The company has more than 500 employees.

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