July 4, 2024


US awards US$176 million to Moderna for bird flu vaccine development


The US government has awarded US$176 million to Moderna to advance the development of its bird flu vaccine, Reuters reported.


This funding comes amid rising concerns over a multi-state outbreak of the H5N1 virus in dairy cattle and infections among three dairy workers since March.


The funds from the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) will be used to complete late-stage development and testing of a pre-pandemic mRNA-based vaccine against H5N1 avian influenza, according to a statement from Moderna. The agreement also includes additional options to prepare for and accelerate responses to future public health threats.


In March, US officials reported the first outbreak of the H5N1 virus in dairy cattle, which has since infected over 130 herds in 12 states. Scientists are concerned that exposure to the virus in poultry and dairy operations could increase the risk of the virus mutating and gaining the ability to spread easily among humans, potentially triggering a pandemic.


Last year, Moderna began a safety and immunogenicity study of its bird flu vaccine, mRNA-1018, in healthy adults aged 18 and older. The study included both the H5 subtype of bird flu currently circulating in dairy cattle and the H7 bird flu subtype. Results from this study are expected this year and will inform late-stage development plans.


Moderna's vaccine utilises mRNA, or messenger RNA, the technology behind its COVID-19 vaccine. "mRNA vaccine technology offers advantages in efficacy, speed of development and production, scalability, and reliability in addressing infectious disease outbreaks, as demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel in a statement.


Manufacturing conventional flu vaccines using cell or egg-based technology can take four to six months. US officials have indicated they are moving bulk vaccine from CSL Seqirus that closely matches the current virus into finished shots that could provide 4.8 million doses if needed. These doses would potentially be used to inoculate farm workers and others at risk of exposure to the virus. For the public, US and global health officials maintain that the risk from bird flu remains low.


-      Reuters