Vaccines as a Catalyst for Transformation — Business Lessons Learned from Moderna Canada
Dave Leonard’s fireside chat with Moderna Canada General Manager, Patricia Gauthier
“A 10 year process into 10 Months; how did you do it?”
“The new normal” and “unprecedented times” are expressions often repeated in the past year attempting (somewhat unsuccessfully) to capture the magnitude of the pandemic and the impact it has had on our lives, and livelihoods.
In Canada, Moderna became a household name. As one of the top providers of the COVID-19 vaccines in Canada they have become an organization on which many of us pin our hopes, and to whom many of us levy our fears and frustrations. Each of their challenges and achievements feel, and often are, intertwined with our own.
On June 22, 2021, McCarthy Tétrault CEO, Dave Leonard, had the opportunity to host Patricia Gauthier the General Manager of Moderna’s Canadian Operations (and McCarthy Tétrault alumnus) for a fireside chat. Their discussion canvassed Patricia’s journey to the leadership of Moderna’s Canadian affiliate. The chat also provided insight into how she and the organization drove innovation, and how they navigated the challenges of rapid growth under the pressure of urgent need and global scrutiny. This discussion had so many great take-aways for other organizations and especially those navigating the changing pace of business and looking to grow; we’ve highlighted a few of the key ones below.
1. Focus, drive and relentless pursuit of innovation set foundations for growth
Patricia talked about Moderna’s core values: boldness, relentlessness, curiosity and collaboration. She pointed out that these values are what drew her to the organization and also were key pillars in the organizations ability to grow. Moderna choose to invest early (since 2011) and significantly in mRNA science with the goal of bringing mRNA medicines to the world. They were the first to bring an mRNA vaccine to clinical trials in 2015. So, when COVID-19 spread around the globe, they knew they had the experience and technology to provide a response. And respond they did bringing millions of doses into Canada and several hundred million to countries around the world. In 2022, Moderna expects to manufacture over 2 billion vaccines.
What is the takeaway? Early focus, strategic thinking and evidence based innovative decision making are important fundamentals to prepare and be ready for later and longer-term success.
2. Efficiency is not mutually exclusive with rigorous safety checks and collaboration with regulators.
Patricia emphasized that the rapid growth of the company and the condensing of the vaccine production timeline had not come at the expense of rigorous testing. For the COVID-19 vaccine, while they got from sequencing to clinical trials in just 63 days, over 30,000 people participated in phase 3 clinical trials. Additionally, Moderna was very transparent with the regulatory bodies regarding their progress and plans, and regulators in turn found ways to speed up the review process without sacrificing thoroughness. For example, Health Canada reviewed the same data but reviewed it in real time instead of waiting and they also allowed Moderna to run clinical trials in parallel.
What is the takeaway? Doing things how they have always been done is not the only or safest way and investing in efficiency and being open to process change can lead to significant improvements. Further, actively taking a collaborative approach, and having an understanding of key stakeholder mandates can align incentives and open the door for mutually beneficial solutions.
3. Risk is a critical component of growth
Patricia pointed to strategic risks as a critical factor enabling Moderna to achieve exponential growth and successfully bring a vaccine to market in such a short period of time. For instance, in 2020 before the Phase 3 trial of the COVID-19 vaccine had even progressed, they chose to invest heavily into building a manufacturing arm. Patricia highlighted that it was not just Moderna but governments across the globe that had to take various risks such as negotiating purchase agreements – with minimal data – in order to ensure vaccine supply.
What is the takeaway? Evaluate risks with an eye for opportunity and growth potential.
4. Maintaining a cohesive company culture is key to growth
Shedding light on the history of Moderna, Patricia detailed how under the leadership of Dr. Noubar Afeyan and Stephane Bancel (respectively Founder and current Board Chair, and CEO) the organization focused on attracting innovative thinkers with a desire to push the status quo from the start. For Patricia, this drive and purposeful push attracted her to the organization and has been a clear contributor to their success. With 700 employees in 2019 to about 2,000 employees today, talent and acquisition will continue to play a critical role in shaping the future of the organization.
What is the takeaway? Having clear values and investing in talent is a win-win.
5. Looking ahead; Innovation is key for continuous growth
A key learning during this period was that the impossible is possible; Patricia reminded us that two years ago there was not a sophisticated supply chain to deliver global vaccines in such magnitude – and now there is.
As we prepare to enter the post-pandemic period, for Patricia, this means keeping this in mind as they look to fill gaps in medicine and bring to market new vaccines. While they hope to bring the platform successfully used to bring the COVID-19 vaccine and apply it to bring vaccines to other areas, she is keen to continue to evolve and plans to do so by avoid complacency and overreliance on one way of doing things.
Looking ahead, she also discussed how it is important to keep an eye on the market conditions in Canada for innovators, to think about end-to-end solutions and stressed the heavy investment in research and development as a key step in this.
What is the takeaway? It is always a good time to be innovative. Flexibility and willingness to change must continue even after achieving milestones and even amidst success.
For further information on matters that affect Canada’s economy and your business please visit the McCarthy Tétrault Business Transformation Hub, your source for strategic insights beyond COVID.
 Quote from Dave Leonard