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Moderna sales and profits are down as it lowers COVID vaccine sales expectations

Demand for COVID-19 shots is waning, but the Cambridge company expects the market for annual boosters to be robust.

A nurse prepared a syringe of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine.Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

Moderna has lowered expectations for sales of its COVID-19 vaccine this year, citing manufacturing delays, and offering what may be a preview of waning interest in the company’s sole product.

The Cambridge company now anticipates making $18 billion to $19 billion from the shots in 2022, down from its previous estimate of $21 billion.

The firm posted a third quarter revenue of $3.4 billion, down 32 percent from the same time last year, and a net income of $1 billion in the third quarter, down 69 percent from last year. But Moderna said it expects sales to be higher in the fourth quarter. The company’s stock fell about 7 percent when markets opened Thursday, but rebounded later.

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Moderna has only booked $4.5 billion to $5.5 billion in preorders for COVID shots in 2023, about half of which comes from the delayed orders.

The company expects additional orders from the US, the European Union, Japan, and other countries. Many analysts doubt that future sales of the COVID shots will come anywhere close to reaching the astronomical levels seen over the past two years. But a higher price tag may help the firm compensate for lower demand.

“Our costs will change in an endemic mode,” chief financial officer Jamey Mock said in a call with investors, but he wouldn’t give a specific price. Mock added that the vaccines will eventually come in single-use, pre-filled syringes rather than multi-dose vials. He also said that Moderna will also start picking up the tab on distribution costs as the company starts selling the vaccine to private markets.

In the call, executives emphasized that Moderna has many experimental vaccines and therapies in the works. Large clinical trials testing its vaccines for influenza and respiratory syncytial virus could wrap up this winter. If the results are positive, those vaccines are poised to become Moderna’s next products.

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“We’re actively preparing for the commercial launches for these additional respiratory vaccines and will leverage the COVID commercial infrastructure that we’re currently building,” said Arpa Garay, the company’s chief commercial officer.

Results from an intermediate-stage clinical trial of Moderna’s personalized cancer vaccine, which it is jointly developing with Merck, are expected before the year’s end. That vaccine is tailored to match the unique mutations found in a patient’s tumor and spur their immune system to attack it.

Signage is displayed on the Moderna Inc. headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg

Last month, Moderna earned a $250 million payment from Merck when the pharma giant opted to move forward with the program for people with high-risk melanoma and split future costs and profits. “We are encouraged by that decision,” said Stephen Hoge, Moderna’s president.

If the cancer vaccine works, it could open up a potentially vast new cancer business for the company with products that command much higher prices. But in the meantime, investors are concerned about how much the firm’s booster shot sales will trail off next year.

In the summer, the Biden administration officials pushed Moderna and its competitor Pfizer to update their booster shots to match the predominantly circulating strains of the virus. The companies rushed to make the vaccines, and regulators authorized them just before Labor Day even though the firms had yet to test their effectiveness in humans.

Demand for the new boosters has proven smaller than the government and the companies anticipated. Only about 22.8 million people have got an updated shot since it was approved on Aug. 31, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The new boosters may be less effective than initially hoped. Recent studies from academic labs suggest that they are not significantly better at protecting against the predominantly circulating Omicron variants than the original shots. Moderna said results from an ongoing clinical trial of the new booster are coming later this year.

The company isn’t giving up on boosters. “With the continued higher medical burden of COVID relative to flu, we expect the endemic COVID vaccine market could be as large or larger than flu market volumes over time,” Garay said. Moderna estimates that global market at 600 million doses a year.

So far, the US government has paid for the shots in this country, but that could soon change as preorders of COVID vaccines go unused and interest in subsidizing new orders diminishes. “We anticipate a more fragmented customer base, including private payers, health plans, pharmacy chains, individual pharmacies, and physician offices,” Garay said.

The firm’s year-to-date operating expenses were $6.3 billion, up 88 percent from the same time last year. Those costs were in part due to the larger and more expensive clinical trials it is running, as well as a growing headcount from 2,400 to 3,700 employees worldwide.

Chief executive Stéphane Bancel said Moderna has completed its previously announced plan to purchase $3 billion of its own shares. The company has about $17 billion in cash and investments on hand.

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Ryan Cross can be reached at ryan.cross@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @RLCscienceboss.