Moderna announced it received a $176 million project award from the Rapid Response Partnership Vehicle (RRPV) for the continued development of mRNA-based bird flu vaccines on Tuesday morning. 

The project award will aid and accelerate late stage development for a vaccine, with an aim for licensure of a pre-pandemic vaccination against H5 influenza. 

This is a highly infectious and potentially critical subtype of influenza, known colloquially as bird flu. Its potential effects on humans is relatively unknown but are considered by many to pose a serious threat.

Recently, the H5 avian influenza has made headlines as it continues to infect cattle throughout the United States. There has been substantial criticism of the nation’s public health response to this emerging threat as other countries have already begun their own preventative studies of bird flu. 

Industry leaders and public health stakeholders have pressed the federal government in recent weeks to take steps to combat and contain this threat.

This agreement also includes options for preparations and accelerated responses to public health threats in the future. 

The development of this vaccine won’t be something that Moderna has to start from scratch. 

Last year, the company began the development of a combination flu and COVID-19 vaccine which includes vaccine candidates against H5 and H7 avian influenza viruses. A Phase 1/2 trial of that combo vaccine showed promising results as Moderna continues to develop vaccine candidates following its success during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The results from that study are expected to be released later this year and will be the basis of potential Phase 3 development plans.

The RRPV is funded by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services, which previously worked with Moderna in the development of its COVID-19 vaccination in 2020 as part of Operation Warp Speed.

This project award from BARDA represents one of the more substantive actions taken by the federal government to address the emerging threat from bird flu.

As for Moderna, which has been eyeing opportunities outside of COVID vaccines as the pandemic has faded endemicity. 

This pivot hasn’t been easy for the drugmaker, which recently saw its RSV vaccine post lackluster effectiveness after 18 months compared to competitors, GSK and Pfizer. 

Though Moderna applauded the BARDA award in a statement released Tuesday morning, Wall Street was unmoved, with the company’s stock price remaining flat during the mid-day session.

“MRNA vaccine technology offers advantages in efficacy, speed of development, and production scalability and reliability in addressing infectious disease outbreaks, as demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a statement. “We are pleased to continue our collaboration with BARDA to expedite our development efforts for mRNA-based pandemic influenza vaccines and support the global public health community in preparedness against potential outbreaks.”