Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, speaks with Dev Pragad, CEO of This Website.
Moderna has grown from a startup to a $80 billion worldwide giant in the ten years after Stéphane Bancel joined as Employee #2. The company’s COVID-19 vaccine, which was created in record time, has been given to nearly 60 million Americans. Bancel spoke with This website CEO Dev Pragad via Zoom earlier this week on the challenges of leading a team through a crisis. Bancel explained, “We were following this virus and we knew everything mattered.” He also talked about his aspirations for future mRNA research and the possibilities of curing cancer, his devotion to a “10x attitude,” and the dangers of being boiled frogs for fast-growing company CEOs.
For clarity, the interview has been minimally modified.
Dev Pragad, the founder and CEO of this website: Stéphane, before joining Moderna, you were the CEO of BioMeriux, where you oversaw a company with thousands of workers and a few billion dollars in revenue before leaving to join Moderna as employee number two in 2011. That is a highly dangerous decision by any standard. What motivated you to do this, and why did you do it?
Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna: So it was quite straightforward. Finally, if mRNA can be made into a safe and effective medication. This technology has the potential to revolutionize medicine. This was my opinion at the time. And the reason is very simple: with mRNA, you can not only do what you can do with recombinant technology, which biotech has used for 50 years now. But because the mRNA gets into the cells, you can make protein inside the cells or protein at the membrane of a cell. And that will present around two thirds of a protein in your DNA. And you cannot make those proteins using traditional technology. And so it was just a gigantic space of biology that you could have a drug that could not be [made into a]drug using mRNA small molecule, that pharma has used for 50 years. And so that’s why I decided to do it, which is if we could find a way to make this work safely, you will change medicine forever.
Did your wife agree with your decision?
She did, of course—if not, I would not have done it. So it was. This is a brief summary.