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How Moderna is using Amazon cloud to produce personalized cancer vaccines

Key Points
  • Moderna is using the "software of life" to help develop treatments for diseases, including one that can be a $5 billion opportunity, CEO Stephane Bancel told CNBC.
  • "We have a phase two study going on where we are designing every product for every patient" to personalize cancer treatments, he said in a "Mad Money" interview.
  • Amazon Web Services is playing a key role in the clinical trial studies of multiple drugs the biotech firm is looking to produce.
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Moderna CEO: Developing new class of medicine using mRNA, Amazon cloud

Moderna Therapeutics is working with Amazon's cloud service to deliver a new class of medicines that apply messenger RNA, which is the "software of life," CEO Stephane Bancel said Wednesday.

The biotech company is undergoing clinical trials with mRNA, a single-stranded molecule used to make protein in cells, to develop personalized cancer vaccines.

In an interview with CNBC's Jim Cramer, Bancel explained how Amazon Web Services — the fastest-growing division in Amazon — is playing a central role in the research to build medicines for infectious and rare diseases and cancer.

"We have a phase two study going on where we are designing every product for every patient," he said in a "Mad Money" interview. "So we start by taking a biopsy of a cancer, we next-gen sequence it, we next-gen sequence a healthy cell of a body [and] we send everything to AWS" in order to "compare every letter of a DNA ... of a healthy cell and a cancer cell, and from that we deduce what do we need to do in our product just for your cancer."

An mRNA technology platform, infrastructure to accelerate drug discovery and early development, is said to allow medicines to be created in nontraditional ways. Instead of discovering ways to manufacture new products, the four letters in the information molecule can be used to develop the new treatments, Bancel said.

"So once you figure out how to make it work once ... then you can have a lot of new products come in very quickly and the return on investments is very spectacular because you don't have to reinvent everything," he said. "You just fly."

Moderna, founded in 2010, is using Amazon's cloud platform for more than a dozen drug candidates in the pipeline, with seven going through trial studies, according to AWS. The cloud service is used to help speed up the amount of time it takes to get the drugs from research to clinical trials.

The projects seek to tackle cancer, infectious diseases and rare liver diseases, among others. In 2018, Merck invested $125 million in the company to launch its fourth project with Moderna that focused on a personalized vaccine for pancreatic and lung cancers.

Moderna is also working on a cytomegalovirus vaccine that Bancel said can address "the No. 1 cause of birth defect" in the United States. Last week, the company reported seeing positive results from its phase one trial and is making progress on phase two. Phase three is expected to come in 2021. Moderna estimates it could become a $2 billion to $5 billion opportunity.

"It's a virus that if it infects a woman during pregnancy [it] will have massive ... impact on the brain development of a baby," Bancel said. "And we believe that every woman in the age of bearing a child in this country should get vaccinated once a vaccine gets launched."

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Moderna CEO on using mRNA, Amazon cloud to develop a new class of medicine

Disclosure: Cramer's charitable trust owns shares of Amazon.

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