10/11/2021 / By Nolan Barton
Three key figures from Moderna have made it to the list of top 400 richest people in America. Chairman Noubar Afeyan, board member Robert Langer and early investor Timothy Springer each made their debut in this year’s tally produced by business magazine Forbes.
They each own a stake in the biotech company, which has logged in billions of dollars in vaccine sales as the virus spread and seen its shares soar last year.
Despite the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic’s toll on many businesses, the 400 richest Americans this year are a combined 40 percent richer than last year’s.
Former President Donald Trump fails to make the cut for the first time in 25 years as some of his core assets lose their value in the pandemic. Meanwhile, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos tops it for the fourth year in a row, with Tesla’s Elon Musk in second place.
The estimates by Forbes are based on stock prices from September, SEC documents and other records.
Forbes has estimated the fortune of Afeyan to be nearly $5 billion. Afeyan, an engineer and one of the founders of Moderna, was born in Beirut to Armenian parents and left during Lebanon’s civil war.
Langer’s net worth is estimated at $4.9 billion. He is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientist who has hundreds of patents. Springer has the biggest estimated net worth of the three at $5.9 billion. He is an immunologist at Harvard University who put in millions when the company was founded in 2010.
Moderna is one of three main vaccines being rolled out in the U.S., and has sold doses to European countries, Canada and other parts of the world as well.
The company’s technology based on messenger RNA makes it the first to test its COVID-19 vaccine in a human. The swift response gives it a boost in the markets. At the same time, it has faced rebuke for selling early doses to the countries that could bid the highest. (Related: Moderna takes millions in DARPA money, yet fails to mention taxpayer funding in its vaccine patent applications.)
In the wake of an outcry over unfair rollouts worldwide, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel has said he expects a rise in production across the industry to mean there will be enough vaccines for “everyone on this Earth” by next year.
Bancel would have easily made the list as well if he were an American.
Earlier this year, campaigners from the People’s Vaccine Alliance have analyzed Forbes Rich List data to highlight the massive wealth being generated for a handful of people from vaccines that are largely publicly funded. Bancel has topped their list of new billionaires from Big Pharma with $4.3 billion. The list also includes Afeyan, Langer and Springer.
Sitting next to Bancel in the alliance’s list published in May is CEO and co-founder of BioNTech Ugur Sahin with a net worth of $4 billion.
Interestingly, Afeyan’s net worth is only estimated at $1.9 billion at the time, while Langer’s net worth is at $1.6 billion and Springer’s is at $2.2 billion
Senior executives from CanSino Biologics have also become billionaires over the last year with the Chinese firm’s co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer Zhu Tao giving an estimated net worth of $1.3 billion, co-founder and Senior Vice President Qiu Dongxu $1.2 billion and co-founder and Senior Vice President Mao Huinhoa $1 billion.
CanSino has developed a one-shot vaccine that was approved for use in China last February.
ROVI Chairman Juan Lopez-Belmonte also made the list with $1.8 billion. Spanish contract drugmaker Rovi makes bottles for Moderna’s vaccine and has reached a deal to make its active ingredients.
Aside from the nine new Big Pharma billionaires, the alliance has found that eight existing billionaires with big stakes in the industry have seen their combined wealth increase by a staggering $32.2 billion.
Zhifei Biological Chairman Jiang Rensheng and family raised their worth to $24.4 billion this year from $7.6 billion last year; Cyrus Poonawalla, founder of Serum Institute of India, is now worth $12.7 billion from $8.2 billion; Tse Ping of Sinopharm is now worth $8.9 billion from $7.3 billion; Wu Guanjiang, co-founder of Zhifei Biological, is now worth $5.1 billion from $1.80 billion; Thomas and Andreas Struengmann and their respective families, who have stakes with Germany’s BioNTech and Uruguay’s Mega Pharma, are now worth $11 billion each from similar $9.6 billion last year; Pankaj Patel of Cadila Healthcare is now worth $5 billion from $2.9 billion; and Patrick Soon-Shiong of ImmunityBio is now worth $7.5 billion from $6.4 billion last year.
Anne Marriott, Oxfam’s health policy manager, says Big Pharma companies and the executives behind them have taken the monopoly on the COVID-19 vaccine. (Related: Big money for Big Pharma: World Bank to inject more money into Big Pharma’s accounts.)
“These billionaires are the human face of the huge profits many pharmaceutical corporations are making from the monopoly they hold on these vaccines,” she says. “These vaccines were funded by public money and should be first and foremost a global public good, not a private profit opportunity.”
Shares in Big Pharma companies responsible for developing the vaccines have skyrocketed as they gained authorization for use in nations across the world.
In a three-month stretch beginning February, Moderna has seen its share price surge by more than 700. During the same timeframe, BioNTech has increased by 600 percent and CanSino Biologics by 440 percent.
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