Biotech firm Moderna Inc. has gotten a boost in the race to develop a novel coronavirus vaccine, securing as much as $483 million in U.S. government funding to cover advancing its candidate drug through clinical testing.

The Cambridge, Mass.-based company said Thursday that the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) had agreed to support its effort to deliver its mRNA-1273 vaccine, which, according to The Wall Street Journal, is “among the most advanced coronavirus vaccine candidates.”

Moderna has been working on mRNA-1273 with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, launching an early-phase study on March 16 with 45 volunteers in Seattle.

“We are thankful for BARDA’s support to fund the accelerated development of mRNA-1273,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a news release. “Time is of the essence to provide a vaccine against this pandemic virus.”

Scientists and biotech firms around the globe have been racing to find a way to stop the virus that has killed about 140,000 people worldwide. BARDA and health care giant Johnson & Johnson last month announced that they were investing more than $1 billion in a potential vaccine.

Moderna’s announcement shows the development of its vaccine “has moved far along enough that preparations are under way to test it further and to expand manufacturing, but the commitments don’t guarantee the vaccine will prove to work safely,” the WSJ said.

The mRNA-1273 vaccine uses genetic code known as messenger RNA to prepare a person’s immune system to fight off the novel coronavirus. If it vaccine proves safe and appears to work, Moderna plans to begin a mid-stage trial in the second quarter of this year and potentially progress to a final, late-stage trial in the fall.

Moderna has been testing its vaccine-creation technology on the Zika virus. “The big questions about mRNA-1273 … are whether the company picked the right coronavirus protein to use to generate the immune response, and whether the antibodies that are produced will actually protect patients from contracting COVID-19,” The Motley Fool said.

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