The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Moderna founders make Forbes list of America’s richest during pandemic

Two of Moderna’s founders, and one investor, are among 44 new billionaires on the Forbes 400 list this year

Biotechnology company Moderna's headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., in May 2020. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

At least three people with a stake in the coronavirus vaccine race have just made a list of the top 400 richest people in America.

Moderna’s chairman, Noubar Afeyan, one of the U.S. biotech company’s founders; along with board member Robert Langer, also a co-founder; and early investor Timothy Springer each made their debut in this year’s tally produced by business magazine Forbes.

Despite the pandemic’s toll on many businesses, the 400 richest Americans this year are, together, 40 percent richer than last year’s ultrarich, making the cutoff to get on the list higher than ever, according to the publication. And the list featured the most new names it has had since 2007, many of them billionaires in finance, tech and health care.

The trio each own a stake in the biotech company, which saw its shares soar last year and which — along with U.S. drug giant Pfizer and German partner BioNTech — logged billions of dollars in vaccine sales as the virus spread. U.S. firm Johnson & Johnson and Europe’s AstraZeneca say they don’t plan to profit from their shots during the pandemic.

For its rankings, Forbes estimated the fortune of Afeyan, the Moderna chairman, to be nearly $5 billion. The engineer, who was born in Beirut to Armenian parents and left during Lebanon’s civil war, has helped found many other companies.

The net worth estimates — which Forbes put out Tuesday based on stock prices from September, SEC documents and other records — stood at $4.9 billion for Langer, an MIT scientist who has hundreds of patents. It calculated $5.9 billion for Springer, a Harvard immunologist who put in millions when the company was founded in 2010.

Some big names that have been staples did not fare as well — former U.S. president Donald Trump fell off the list for the first time in 25 years after big-city properties, some of his core assets, lost value in the pandemic.

Others had banner years. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, topped it for the fourth year in a row, with Tesla’s Elon Musk in second place.

The spread of the coronavirus has destroyed hundreds of millions of jobs worldwide while the world’s richest people saw their fortunes grow, surveys showed earlier this year. The pandemic has highlighted widening inequality not just in wealth, but also in access to vaccines.

More than 152 million doses of Moderna’s shot have been administered in the United States since it first was authorized last year. It’s one of three coronavirus vaccines that health workers are administering in the country, and it has sold doses to European countries and Canada as well.

The Cambridge, Mass., company’s technology, based on messenger RNA, made it the first company to test its coronavirus vaccine in a human. The swift response also gave 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, and questions about its surging stock price generating wealth for investors.

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.

Read more:

The pandemic destroyed 225 million jobs worldwide, but billionaires got richer, reports find

Moderna’s chief expects enough vaccines for everyone by next year

A vaccine rooted in a government partnership fuels financial rewards for company executives