Building the digital biotech of the future

Posted by Mike Walsh

Nov 3, 2021 2:33:05 PM



Most are familiar with the story of how Moderna was able to rapidly develop and deploy a successful COVID19 vaccine during the pandemic. Not long after Chinese scientists first put the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus online, Moderna went from sequencing to shipping in a matter of months. To put that in perspective, a vaccine typically takes ten years to bring to market. What is less known is that Moderna never intended to be a company focused on making coronavirus vaccines - it was simply an opportunity that emerged out of having the right capabilities and infrastructure in place.


When Moderna was founded in 2010, it set the vision of being a digital biotech platform capable of broadly exploring the potential of mRNA technology. When news of the pandemic first emerged, Moderna was working on a number of mRNA-based medicines, including those focused on heart disease, Zika, and cancer. However, Moderna's founders believed that if mRNA technology worked for one application, it could work for countless more, and all that would be needed was to change the information and code it for a new application. 


When I spoke with Dave Johnson, Chief Data and AI Officer at the company, he explained that mRNA is an information-based platform. Similar to a computer's operating system, researchers can insert new genetic code from a virus to create a novel vaccine quickly and safely. In fact, it was the software-like, digital nature of mRNA technology that inspired Moderna to fashion themselves in the form of a new type of digital biotech company with AI, algorithms, and automation at its core.


Dave Johnson is Chief Data and Artificial Intelligence Officer at Moderna, where he is responsible for all enterprise data capabilities from data engineering, data integration, data science, and software engineering. Johnson holds a PhD in Information Physics and has over 15 years of experience in software engineering and data science. He has spent more than a decade working exclusively in enterprise pharma and biotech companies.



In this episode you will learn: 


02:13 How Moderna brought a COVID19 vaccine to market so quickly
04:10 The value of investing in capabilities rather than competencies
06:20 How Moderna is different from a more traditional pharma company
10:02 The future of personalized cancer vaccines
11:27 Why there is so much misplaced optimism about AI in biotech
13:33 The Moderna digital platform
18:34 Why data scientists are not data analysts



CATEGORY: Pharmaceutical