10:01 PM
 | 
Jul 09, 2018
 |  BC Extra  |  Company News

BioNTech, Genevant partner to send mRNA therapies to the liver

A pair of deals between BioNTech AG (Mainz, Germany) and Genevant Sciences will propel mRNA-based therapeutics for rare diseases into the clinic as soon as 2020 and allow BioNTech to harness the liver's robust protein production capacity. Genevant, which launched in April, is an RNA-based therapeutics company jointly owned by Roivant Sciences GmbH (Basel, Switzerland) and Arbutus Biopharma Corp. (NASDAQ:ABUS).

BioNTech and Genevant will co-develop and co-commercialize on a 50/50 split five mRNA-based therapies for undisclosed rare diseases using BioNTech's mRNA therapeutics and Genevant's lipid nanoparticle (LNP) technology. The partners expect the first program to enter the clinic in 2020. Genevant has exclusive rights to the LNP platform from Arbutus.

Under a second deal, BioNTech received exclusive, worldwide rights to use Genevant's LNP technology to develop five undisclosed oncology programs. Genevant is eligible to receive undisclosed commercial milestones.

BioNTech COO Sean Marett told BioCentury the deal represents BioNTech's first foray away from its oncology-focused pipeline and towards risk-diversifying its portfolio. He said the rare disease space has been on the table for a number of years and that BioNTech has found the right combination with Genevant's liver-targeted LNP technology to begin development in earnest. Marett noted that the LNP technology already has some clinical validation, which will hasten the move into the clinic.

Marett said a liver-targeted delivery system is particularly attractive because the liver can manufacture proteins encoded by BioNTech's mRNA therapies, whether the proteins are intended to correct a deficiency driving a rare disease or are an mRNA-encoded anti-cancer therapy.

In regards to the latter, Marett highlighted a study BioNTech published in Nature Medicine last year showing that the liver could manufacture mRNA-encoded bispecific antibodies delivered via LNPs and wield anti-tumor effects in mouse models of solid tumors.

Upon its launch in April, Genevant said it intended to pursue partnerships across multiple modalities such as mRNA and bring 5-10 candidates into the clinic by 2020.

Marett expects that BioNTech's $270 million series A round, which closed in January, will provide enough runway to bring all three of its non-mRNA therapeutic modalities into the clinic by next year. Those modalities include a CAR T therapy, a bispecific antibody partnered with Genmab A/S (CSE:GEN; Pink:GMXAY) and a small molecule toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) agonist (see "BioNTech Bonanza").

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