Advanced Weapons Developer D.A.R.P.A. Invested $25M in Moderna’s mRNA Vax in 2013

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded the gene-based vaccine developer $25.3 million “to research and develop its messenger RNA therapeutics” nearly 8 years ago.

QUICK FACTS:
  • An October 2013 press release from Moderna, Inc.—the Covid-19 mRNA vaccine developer—reveals that the pharmaceutical and biotech company was granted over $25 million from DARPA.
  • DARPA is a military weapons technology research and development agency for the United States Department of Defense (DOD).
  • In 2019, just months before the Covid-19 outbreak, a project DARPA had funded at Moderna demonstrated in a Phase 1 clinical trial that RNA could deliver an antibody to humans and provide protection against the mosquito-borne virus chikungunya, according to The Washington Post.
WHAT THE PRESS RELEASE SAID:
  • “Moderna Therapeutics, the company pioneering messenger RNA therapeutics™, a revolutionary new treatment modality to enable the in vivo production of therapeutic proteins, announced today that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded the company up to $25 million to research and develop its messenger RNA therapeutics™ platform as a rapid and reliable way to make antibody-producing drugs to protect against a wide range of known and unknown emerging infectious diseases and engineered biological threats,” the news release stated.
  • Moderna noted its company’s ability “to speed the development and manufacture” the vaccine.
  • “We are honored to be chosen by DARPA for this important grant, which will greatly accelerate our efforts to develop antibody messenger RNA therapeutics™ to combat a wide range of infectious diseases,” said president and founding CEO of Moderna Stéphane Bancel.
  • Bancel said he looked “forward to further expanding the development of our platform into this critically important new therapeutic area.”
WHAT THE $25 MILLION WAS FOR:
  • $24.6 million would support research “for up to 5 years,” notes the release.
  • This research would “advance promising antibody-producing drug candidates” for “preclinical testing and human clinical trials.”
  • Moderna also received a $0.7 million “seedling” grant from DARPA in March to begin work on the project, according to the release.
WHAT IS DARPA?:
  • DARPA was launched in 1958 by president Dwight Eisenhower in response to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite.
  • DARPA spends about $3.5 billion a year, focusing “on the Nation’s military Services” in order “to create new strategic opportunities and novel tactical options,” according to DARPA’s website.
  • DARPA’s best-known investments include research on the first global satellite-navigation system (known as Transit), stealth aircraft, and the Internet’s precursor, ARPANET, according to Nature.
  • The agency has a “reputation for taking on riskier ideas and having a higher tolerance for failure than conventional funding agencies,” Nature adds.
  • World leaders characterize agencies like DARPA as “high-risk.”
BACKGROUND:
  • In April 2021, DNA Script—a bio-engineering company on human DNA—announced its new partnership with Moderna and its being awarded $5 million from DARPA.
  • DNA Script will help DARPA “to develop a prototype for rapid mobile manufacturing of vaccines and therapeutics as part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Nucleic Acids On-Demand World-Wide (NOW) Program,” according to their press release.
  • DARPA also awarded Pfizer Inc.—another Covid-19 mRNA vaccine developer—a $7.7 million research contract in December 2013.
  • In January of 2015, Moderna announced its partnership with AstraZeneca—yet another Covid-19 vaccine developer—along with its raising $450 million in new funding, according to another press release. “Together with partners AstraZeneca, Alexion, and DARPA (The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), Moderna is in active development of 45 preclinical programs in oncology, cardiovascular disease, rare diseases, and infectious diseases,” read the statement.

Jon Fleetwood is Managing Editor for American Faith.