Days after launching its global mRNA campaign, Moderna is partnering with IBM to invest in generative artificial intelligence (AI) in an effort to aid the drugmaker’s grand quest to advance mRNA technology.
Quantum computing — which uses quantum mechanics to solve problems — can be applied to scientific challenges in the pharma industry. Under the collaboration, Moderna will be part of the IBM Quantum Accelerator program as well as the IBM Quantum Network.
Per the agreement, IBM will give Moderna access to quantum computing systems and provide the company with support and expertise as it explores quantum approaches to drug development.
In particular, Moderna scientists will use an AI foundation model called MoLFormer — which can optimize lipid nanoparticles as well as mRNA. IBM refers to the model as one that can “learn the grammar of molecules.”
“We are excited to partner with IBM to develop novel AI models to advance mRNA science, prepare ourselves for the era of quantum computing, and ready our business for these game-changing technologies,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a statement.
Additionally, Bancel noted Moderna would be aiming for “breakthrough advances with quantum computing” and seeking to invest now in “building a quantum-ready workforce,” to be fully prepared to harness the power of the technology.
Following news of the announcement, Moderna shares dropped slightly on Thursday.
As the COVID-19 pandemic fades — and the number of vaccinations continue to decline — big vaccine makers like Pfizer and Moderna have sought to fill the gap with ambitious mRNA pursuits. To that end, Moderna has doubled down on investigating mRNA vaccines for the flu, cancer, and other conditions.
Last December, Moderna and Merck announced that a combination of Keytruda with an investigational mRNA cancer vaccine showed some efficacy in treating people with Stage III/IV melanoma.
However, the latest results from Moderna’s flu vaccine, mRNA-1010, “did not accrue sufficient cases” at its interim efficacy analysis.
Still, Moderna has been investing heavily into its mRNA pipeline. In March, the pharma chose Oxfordshire, England as the location for its U.K. Innovation and Technology Centre, which is expected to open in 2025. The manufacturing facility is set to produce 250 million vaccines per year, and will host production for numerous mRNA vaccines that target COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus and flu.
Darío Gil, SVP and director of IBM Research, noted in a statement that the new partnership will allow Moderna to “take advantage of our multi-year research efforts in generative AI for therapeutics that can allow scientists to better understand how molecules behave and may facilitate creating entirely new ones.”