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Moderna expects $18.4b in COVID-19 vaccine revenue this year

Cambridge company also says its chief medical officer, who made millions on stock sales, will leave in September

A needle in a vial of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine.Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Bloomberg

Moderna said Thursday that it expects to generate $18.4 billion in sales this year from its COVID-19 vaccine, making the 11-year-old Cambridge biotech’s first product to reach the market a massive blockbuster.

The number, shared by executives during a fourth-quarter earnings call Thursday, reflects advance purchase agreements that Moderna signed with multiple countries for vaccine deliveries in 2021. And more orders are in the works.

The company, which was bankrolled by the Cambridge venture capital firm Flagship Pioneering, also got a considerable amount of financial help from US taxpayers.

Moderna is one of several drug makers that received billions of dollars from the federal government through Operation Warp Speed to develop and manufacture a coronavirus vaccine before anyone knew for sure that any of them would work. In December, the Department of Health and Human Services said the company had received $4.1 billion in such funding.

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Moderna plans to produce at least 700 million doses of its vaccine in 2021, up from a previous low-end estimate of 600 million, with a new goal of making 1.4 billion doses in 2022.

Pfizer, which makes the only other coronavirus vaccine cleared for emergency use in the United States, recently said it expects sales of about $15 billion in 2021 from the product it developed with its German partner, BioNTech.

Unlike Moderna, Pfizer did not accept federal funding to help develop or manufacture the vaccine. But it did sign a $1.95 billion deal with Operation Warp Speed in July to deliver 100 million doses as part of an advance-purchase agreement.

Also during the earnings call, Moderna said that its chief medical officer, Tal Zaks, who played a key role in developing the vaccine, which relies on messenger RNA, will leave the company in late September. Moderna has hired a recruiter to find a successor with “global and commercial experience” as it ramps up vaccine production and tries to get other products to market over the next few years, it said.

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“Tal joined us when we were a pre-clinical company,” chief executive Stephane Bancel said in a statement. “His guidance and contributions were important in helping Moderna get to where we are today.”

Zaks, the former head of global oncology at the French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi, joined Moderna in 2015 and has helped oversee its rapidly expanding pipeline of experimental drugs that rely on messenger RNA.

Since the novel coronavirus surfaced in China 13 months ago, he has played a central role as Moderna designed, tested, and won authorization for a two-shot coronavirus vaccine that proved about 95 percent effective at preventing COVID-19. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine also relies on mRNA and demonstrated roughly the same remarkable efficacy in a large clinical trial.

Like several other top executives at Moderna, Zaks profited handsomely from the COVID-19 vaccine.

As the world awaited results from a late-stage clinical trial, Zaks sold his stock like clockwork every Tuesday through prescheduled trades — earning him more than $50 million since the dawn of the pandemic, according to disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and reported by STAT in October.

Moderna has other vaccine and drug candidates in development that rely on messenger RNA, now that the COVID-19 vaccine has validated the approach.

A third coronavirus vaccine that uses a different approach, developed by Johnson & Johnson and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, will be considered Friday by an advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration. If, as expected, the independent experts give their blessing, the vaccine could be cleared for emergency use as early as Saturday and start being distributed within days.

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Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jonathan.saltzman@globe.com.