Executive Conversations: Accelerating COVID-19 vaccine development with Marcello Damiani, Chief Digital and Operational Excellence Officer at Moderna
Marcello Damiani, Chief Digital and Operational Excellence Officer at Moderna, joins Todd Weatherby, Vice President of AWS Professional Services Worldwide, for a discussion on developing Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, scaling systems to enable global distribution, and leveraging cloud technologies to accelerate processes. Moderna is pioneering a new class of medicines made of messenger RNA, or mRNA, with significant potential to improve the lives of patients.
This Executive Conversation is one of a series of discussions held with those progressing their industries where we seek to learn more about their discovery, ingenuity, and contributions to healthcare and life sciences.
Todd Weatherby: How does the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 work?
Marcello Damiani: Our focus at Moderna is on messenger RNA, which is an information-based molecule that goes to and from DNA retrieving genetic code. Every day, your body naturally produces billions of messenger RNAs. At Moderna, we send messenger RNA with instructions for cells to produce specific proteins that can cure or prevent diseases. So when we received the genetic sequence of the COVID-19 virus from China, we identified proteins on the surface of the virus that would serve as the foundation for all our COVID-19 vaccine activities. Through our vaccine, we send instructions via the messenger RNA to produce these proteins that have exactly the same signature as the COVID-19 virus, so the immune system can mount a response.
TW: How has cloud technology enabled vaccine development?
MD: Six years ago, we started building databases and information-based activities to support all our programs. Today, we’re fully cloud based, and our scientists don’t go to the lab to pipette their messenger RNA and proteins—they go to our web portal, the Drug Design Studio that sits in the AWS Cloud. Through the portal they can access public and private libraries that contain all the messenger RNA that exist and the thousands of proteins they can produce. After that, they just press a button and the sequence goes to a fully automated, central lab where we collect data at every step. Over the years, data from the portal and lab has helped us improve our sequence design and production processes and improve the way our scientists gather feedback, Our data scientists built algorithms to accelerate the design of sequences for messenger RNA. In terms of research, all our algorithms rely on computational power from AWS to further our science. On the manufacturing side, everything is fully digitized, paperless, and sits on AWS—including our manufacturing execution system. In fact, we were among the first in the industry to build our manufacturing execution systems on AWS. Then for clinical trials, most of our clinical trial data resides on AWS and we use Amazon Redshift for analytics, including those that supported our COVID-19 vaccine development.
TW: How did Moderna scale operations to reach billions of people?
MD: As we were developing the COVID-19 vaccine, in parallel, we were also working on scaling our manufacturing and supply chain capabilities to be ready for massive distribution. We focused on scaling up our manufacturing execution system and enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform, working closely with AWS Professional Services and Answerthink. That work involved upgrading our SAP ERP so it could leverage high availability and infrastructure as code to meet distribution demand. And by consolidating workstreams, we were able to shorten our timeline for upgrading the system from five months to just two. Now we’re able to deliver vaccines in more than 30 countries to people who desperately need it.
TW: What’s next for Moderna?
MD: Now that we have the mechanisms in place that helped us launch our first vaccine, we’re focusing on how to collect data across the globe to improve our clinical trials and build the next generation of drugs that can help the world. Scaling up with AWS is going to be key for accomplishing our vision—across manufacturing, science, clinical trials, and commercialization. Having the flexibility to scale computational power up or down for sophisticated algorithms will be crucial. Throughout the company we’ll be relying on AWS infrastructure to support us.
To learn more about how Moderna leverages AWS, explore other case studies and presentations:
- Press Release – AWS Powers Moderna’s Digital Biotechnology Platform to Develop New Class of Vaccines and Therapeutic
- Moderna case study – Moderna Therapeutics Delivers mRNA Drugs Faster, at Lower Cost Using AWS
- Video – Moderna leverages AWS to compress the time needed to advance drug candidates
- Webinar – Modernizing pharmaceutical manufacturing with IoT and AI/ML
- AWS Cloud Innovator – Moderna’s journey on AWS