Of all the startups on both continents over the past decade, few could rival the growth of BioNTech after it got started with seed cash back in 2008. The mRNA company has funded much of its rapid expansion with partnership cash, reaching more than 700 staffers at the end of 2017 with the considerable support of some big alliances with the likes of Genentech and Sanofi and Genmab.
This morning the Mainz, German-based biotech took the wraps off a mega-raise of $270 million — an ‘A’ round designed to complete the rapid ramp-up of its considerable manufacturing operations as it looks to advance an early-stage personalized mRNA cancer vaccine designed to mob the antigens of individual patients.
Add up all the cash from the seed money offered by the billionaire Strüngmann brothers through collaboration cash, grants and so on, says COO Sean Marett, and the total comes to about $950 million, nearing a blockbuster billion. Even by US standards, that’s huge. By European standards, it’s almost unheard of for a private life sciences company, coming close to the $320 million record set by Immunocore in the UK in 2015.
The round highlights one of the busiest weeks I’ve ever seen for biotech venture investing. By the end of Thursday, Endpoints News will have reported on more than $700 million in new biotech investments announced over a 72-hour period. Even for the week ahead of JPMorgan, that’s extraordinary.
The Redmile Group led the round, joined by Janus Henderson Investors, Invus, Fidelity Management & Research Company and several European family offices. The Strüngmann Family Office — operated by identical twins Thomas and Andreas Strüngmann, who founded the big generics company Hexal and sold it to Novartis ($NVS) for $7.5 billion — also came back in to invest again.
The focus now is expanding clinical work on new therapeutic programs, says the COO, where BioNTech — helmed by CEO Ugur Sahin — has been engaged as a 50/50 partner with Genentech and other giants.
The latest round indicates just how much investor interest there is in mRNA, with considerable enthusiasm for a technology that’s still very much in its infancy — but promising to move fast. A few months ago, for example, BioNTech boasted of its ability to deliver mRNA encoding for any antibody bispecific, spurring cells to create an anti-cancer therapy that worked against animal tumors. And there’s been some encouraging early snapshots of immunological activity.
Two other companies, CureVac and Moderna, have also gathered huge amounts of support for their own work in mRNA, also looking at cancer vaccines in particular and sizing up their potential in combination with PD-1/L1 inhibitors.
By the end of the year, says Marett, BioNTech will likely have close to 850 employees, with expanded capacity to make its cancer vaccine as well as a CAR-T for one patient at a time.
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