- Well-capitalized, Boston-based Moderna has invested roughly $20 million in rolling out Caperna, its fourth start-up.
- Caperna will be solely focused on developing mRNA vaccines for cancer.
- The general idea is that any vaccines which are successfully developed will be used in conjunction with other immuno-oncologic treatments.
Cancer vaccine R&D is currently trending. Within the last month, Neon Therapeutics and Gritstone Oncology have received funding to focus on cancer vaccines, and now Moderna-funded Caperna is moving in the same direction.
Although there is some mystery around exactly what Moderna is doing scientifically, it seems that they are hard at work on a completely new class of drugs—synthetic versions of mRNA intended to enable patients to make their own therapeutic proteins internally. In addition to having a different mode of action from other immuno-oncology drugs in development, Moderna's vaccines are also intended to provoke a quicker response.
Essentially, Moderna, a biotech company with $840 million in cash from successful rounds of financing, incubates the companies it starts up and can afford to do it. The other startups—Valera, Onkaido, and Epidera—are hard at work, with some evidence of progress. Case in point: Valera is working on 12 programs and has forged a preclinical testing partnership with Merck.
Even more exciting, it looks like one of Valera's mRNA drugs is moving into clinical trials—potentially the first of many firsts for Moderna.