The investment came via PremjiInvest, his private investment arm, which manages billions of dollars in assets and is among the largest family offices in India.
The investment was in the $ 25- $ 30 million range and was made a couple of years ago. While the fund sold some of its holdings, it still has some left over.
“Premji Invest has deliberately looked at companies operating in low-cost immunity, care and delivery. It has invested in 5 such companies in the United States. They have a full team looking into this area. The investment in Moderna was made by their Boston team that has a lot of technical expertise in this area, ”a person familiar with the investment told ET NOW.
While PremjiInvest declined to comment, ET is now awaiting comments from Moderna.
Moderna has raised hopes globally after the experimental vaccine showed signs that it could create an immune system response to fight coronavirus. Its vaccine works using messenger RNA or mRNA. Unlike normal vaccine, RNA vaccines function by introducing an mRNA molecule that is encoded to produce disease-specific antigens.
An early human trial of 45 patients showed that eight people injected with mRNA produced antibodies similar to those in recovered patients. Modern said mRNA-1273 was generally safe and well tolerated.
At the same time, the medical publication Stat News reported that vaccine experts were skeptical as the company has yet to release significant data to support its claim.
The company now plans to move forward with phase 2 and a phase 3 phase. It also announced plans to raise $ 1.34 billion through a public offering to manufacture and distribute its mRNA-1273 vaccine. Sources said the fund has no plans to follow the investments.
“More money does not go into Moderna. The fund is now evaluating opportunities in China and Israel. What attracted Moderna’s team was the work it did on Zika and Nipah by building a vaccine platform. The fact that MIT’s noted professor and the inventor Robert Langer was an early investor was also a big factor, ”said a source.
Robert Langer is one of the most cited researchers in biotechnology, and his laboratory at MIT is the largest biomedical engineering laboratory in the world. He has founded over 30 biotech companies and was one of the founding investors in Moderna in 2010, where he still owns more than 3%.
While Azim Premji started the investment fund in 2006, to distinguish it from his philanthropy (Azim Premji Foundation) and core database company Wipro, he merged his investment arm with the fund in 2018 in a move that signaled more funding for philanthropy.
It is a major investor in listed companies such as Jubilant Foodworks, Marico and HDFC. According to Venture Intelligence, PremjiInvest itself has made 5 published investments (17% of its total portfolio) in the healthcare area: cancer care chain HCG; Koye pharmaceutical products; listed Zydus Wellness (along with PE firm TrueNorth) and US-based health companies Iora Health and Devoted Health.