4:50 PM
Feb 24, 2017
 |  BioCentury  |  Product Development

mRNA test kitchens

Where biopharma is betting on mRNA

Enough of the early challenges in mRNA have been solved to convince several pharmas and biotechs to enter into partnerships to create products capitalizing on the technology’s advantages over existing modalities.

The deals span applications such as infectious disease vaccines, immunomodulators for cancer and protein replacement in rare disease; however, forays into broader protein replacement applications are still scarce.

Moderna Therapeutics Inc. is the runaway winner in dealmaking, at least in terms of upfront payments. The company has partnered with at least four pharma and biotech partners and pulled in at least $705 million in upfront cash and equity investments from partners.

Two other companies each have at least three mRNA deals: BioNTech AG, which has disclosed at least $60 million in upfront payments, and CureVac AG, which has disclosed at least $45 million (see “mRNA Deals”).

The advantages they are seeking over current platforms are clear.

Few of the companies collaborating on infectious disease have named the pathogens they are targeting, but the advantages they are seeking over current platforms are clear. mRNA vaccines can be created and produced faster than recombinant protein vaccines, can address more complex antigens and are more stable, a boon to global distribution.

In 2011 Sanofi’s Sanofi Pasteur division partnered with CureVac to develop mRNA vaccines against a set of predefined pathogens.

Sanofi Pasteur Head of Research in Europe Nicolas Burdin said CureVac’s platform is broadly applicable across vaccine applications and complementary to existing vaccine technologies, and its stability at higher temperatures would help with safe global distribution.

At least one pharma has its own infectious disease mRNA platform in house.

Jeffrey Ulmer, head of preclinical R&D at GlaxoSmithKline plc’s GSK Vaccines unit, said the platform was originally developed at Chiron Corp., which was acquired by Novartis AG in 2006 and came to GSK in the pharmas’ 2015 asset swap.

Ulmer said having mRNA alongside its recombinant adenoviral vector technology allows GSK to test both modalities to decide which is best for a given target. He said mRNA might be a better choice for indications where induction of CD8+ T cells is known to be important, such as treatment of chronic viral infections or cancer.

While partnering for mRNA-based infectious disease products has been relatively slow and steady, a 2016 uptick in deals for mRNA-based cancer immunotherapies hinges on new ideas for combination therapies to boost response rates to checkpoint agents and other immunomodulators....

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