Pharma, R&D

AstraZeneca inks a cardio drug development pact with mRNA specialist Moderna

AstraZeneca has come back to the table to ink a new collaboration deal with the messenger RNA biotech Moderna.

Already a significant partner and investor in the unicorn biotech, AstraZeneca struck a deal to set up a program with Moderna on relaxin, looking to coax cells into producing a protein that could have a tonic effect on heart disease.

That’s a tall order, as cardio remains one of the toughest and most demanding fields in biopharma. Back in March Novartis was forced to concede that its big Phase III for serelaxin —  a recombinant form of the relaxin-2 hormone — failed a big Phase III.

Stéphane Bancel

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, though, says he was pumped by the serelaxin study.

“We got very excited,” he tells me. It was clear from the study that researchers tracked a quick response to the drug, but it was given as a one-time infusion, and the team on this new program plans to develop a drug that will be given as a once monthly injection at home. That repeat dosing can keep up efficacy.

A hit in a global market of this size, it’s worth noting, would be worth blockbuster returns.

Under the terms of the deal, Moderna will handle the preclinical work devising a therapy dubbed AZD7970. Then the pharma giant will handle the early clinical development, followed by a split on the cost of late-stage development, which will necessarily have to be big and expensive.

Bancel says that he expects to wrap the preclinical tox work in 2018, get into the clinic in 2019 in healthy volunteers and look for the end of Phase II meeting around 2020 or 2021.

Both companies plan to co-commercialize in the US, with a 50/50 split — provided everything comes in as planned.

The two collaborators are already at work on AZD8601, which encodes for VEGF-A, with a Phase II study completed. AstraZeneca has submitted a CTA in Europe to initiate a Phase IIa study of AZD8601 in heart failure patients undergoing CABG surgery.

Mene Pangalos

This latest deal fits in Moderna’s strategy of building out a full pipeline long before reaching late-stage development. The company has raised close to $2 billion over the past 7 years, with some marquee investors in the mix.

AstraZeneca’s Mene Pangalos, an early development specialist at AstraZeneca, gave it a thumbs up: “mRNA therapeutics have the potential to help address the unmet need and poor outcomes associated with heart failure and, ultimately, to become a transformational treatment for patients.”

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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