Dr. Randall N. Hyer, SVP Global Medical Affairs at Moderna, talks about the strategies that have helped the company grow from startup to multi-billion-dollar firm in a decade.
In this installment of the Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association (HBSHAA) Q&A series, Dr. Randall N. Hyer, SVP Global Medical Affairs at Moderna, talks to Michael Wong about the strategies that have seen the company grow from startup to multi-billion-dollar firm in a decade.
Michael Wong: From last November’s Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association’s annual conference where Stéphane Bancel shared a keynote presentation1 to your recent presentation at the Baruch S. Blumberg Institute,2 it’s clear that executives are eager to learn how a start-up has grown to a multi-billion-dollar firm in ten years. What have been the elements to enable the firm to drive against its mission of delivering on the promise of mRNA science to create a new generation of transformative medicines for patients?3
Dr. Randall N. Hyer: Moderna’s mission to transform medicine and realize the promise of mRNA science has been grounded in our decade of research and development in mRNA and accelerated by our success with the COVID-19 vaccine. The phenomenal success of the COVID-19 vaccine was based on the following: 1. A clear understanding of the science of coronavirus infection with the importance of the spike protein as an immunodominant protein; 2. A strong sense of urgency felt by all Moderna employees driving them to save crucial hours and minutes at every step; 3. Clear direction and expectations from regulators as to what was needed; 4. Unprecedented cooperation across organizations and sectors to include academia, government, regulators, recommending bodies, private organizations, and individuals; 5. Financial de-risking of large investments driven through advance purchase agreements allowing an overlapping of the clinical studies to accelerate timelines, 6. A decade’s experience with developing mRNA as a platform for preventive vaccines and therapeutics where the crucial details were hammered out through continuous quality improvement, and 7. Strong and persistent leadership from seasoned executives and functional leads.
With a projected six-fold increase in its technology investments from 2019 to 2021, Moderna is scaling its digital capabilities. Still, how has Moderna addressed the pain points frequently seen at large firms when the current workforce and processes may not be ready to deploy such large-scale change?
First, all change is hard and necessity drives change. Moderna’s explosive growth has its side effects. Going from a small company environment where many decisions can be made around the same round table to a company with a global life-saving product in an emergency makes the round table impossible. Moderna had to and continues to evolve.Processes, procedures, and protocols must be rapidly drafted, validated, implemented, and tailored to Moderna.
Second, the CEO, Stéphane Bancel, has made culture a top priority with the values of bold, collaborative, curious, and relentless. These words are prominently displayed through the offices and applicants are questioned about which term they are most closely aligned. This simple concept is penetrating as it drives thinking and decision making at the de-centralized level and empowers leaders to qualify and take necessary risks.
Finally, people are the most important asset and enabler and Moderna continues to recruit and retain top and diverse talent. Top talent has brought in a wealth of experiences from small to big companies. This diversity spurns a synergistic process where two or more good ideas have to morph into one (hopefully) better idea. A week at Moderna compares to a month elsewhere and a month is a year. There are, of course, many growing pains and this can do, make-it-happen, work together ethos with top-tier talent is key.
Randall N. Hyer, M.D., Ph.D, MPH, has 15+ years’ experience in biotechnology with vaccines, biologics, and biosimilars. As the SVP for Global Medical Affairs at Moderna, he helped develop, communicate and manage the global rollout of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine.
Michael Wong is an Emeritus Board Member of the Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association.