Genen­tech dives in­to mR­NA, bet­ting $310M on BioN­Tech's per­son­al­ized can­cer vac­cine tech

Genen­tech is tap­ping in­to the promise of mes­sen­ger RNA for build­ing per­son­al­ized can­cer vac­cines. The gi­ant Roche sub­sidiary is part­ner­ing with Ger­many’s BioN­Tech on its in­di­vid­u­al­ized can­cer ther­a­pies, promis­ing $310 mil­lion in near-term pay­outs to col­lab­o­rate on a com­bo with its new­ly ap­proved check­point in­hibitor Tecen­triq (ate­zolizum­ab).

James Sabry, Genen­tech

In this deal, BioN­Tech will con­tribute its per­son­al­ized can­cer vac­cine plat­form spot­light­ing unique neoanti­gens that can be iden­ti­fied in a can­cer pa­tient’s tu­mors, a trendy new tar­get of drug de­vel­op­ers like Grit­stone, Mod­er­na and Neon Ther­a­peu­tics. Phase I stud­ies are slat­ed to be­gin next year.

BioN­Tech’s work is fo­cused on cre­at­ing syn­thet­ic mR­NAs de­signed to pro­duce ther­a­peu­tic pro­teins, turn­ing a pa­tient’s cells in­to drug fac­to­ries. Batch­es of code spur cells to cre­ate a ther­a­peu­tic pro­tein. And the part­ners are look­ing to kick up a broad as well as spe­cif­ic im­mune re­sponse to fight can­cer. In this case, the tech starts with se­quenc­ing a pa­tient’s genome for their tu­mor, then en­cod­ing the neoanti­gens for that par­tic­u­lar tu­mor in­to a mes­sage de­liv­ered by mR­NA as a vac­cine. Den­drit­ic cells de­code the in­for­ma­tion, and use it to mark tu­mor cells for de­struc­tion by the im­mune sys­tem.

These new per­son­al­ized can­cer vac­cines promise to help ex­pand on the ef­fec­tive­ness of check­point in­hibitors, which dis­man­tle hur­dles set up by can­cer cells, and hope to suc­ceed where the first wave of off-the-shelf can­cer vac­cines large­ly failed.

BioN­Tech gets rights to co-com­mer­cial­ize new ther­a­pies in the US and cer­tain Eu­ro­pean mar­kets, in­clud­ing Ger­many. And it will al­so co-fund the up­com­ing R&D work.

BioN­Tech COO Sean Marett

The deal an­nounce­ment is char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly light on fi­nan­cial de­tails. But in light of the up­front and near-term cash in the deal, that sum is like­ly to be no­table.

Found­ed in 2008, Mainz, Ger­many-based BioN­Tech has been large­ly fund­ed by the Strüng­mann group, a fam­i­ly firm led by Ger­man bil­lion­aires Thomas and An­dreas Strüng­mann, iden­ti­cal twins who have been fu­el­ing a va­ri­ety of biotechs in Ger­many.

The com­pa­ny is keep­ing qui­et about the mile­stones in the deal and isn’t talk­ing about prospec­tive time­lines on the work with Genen­tech, anx­ious to keep some of its cards close to its vest.

“Im­muno-on­col­o­gy is un­be­liev­ably com­pet­i­tive,” says BioN­Tech COO Sean Marett, and that re­quires some cir­cum­spec­tion on the de­tails.

The com­pa­ny, though, laid out a sig­nif­i­cant piece of the on­col­o­gy puz­zle it’s been work­ing on in two pa­pers pub­lished last year and then last June in Na­ture. The first out­lined its work with se­quenc­ing tu­mors for neoepi­topes and in the sec­ond pa­per in­ves­ti­ga­tors out­lined how they used RNA-lipoplex­es to pre­cise­ly tar­get den­drit­ic cells, over­com­ing a key hur­dle by en­cod­ing shared tu­mor anti­gens and get­ting the T cell re­sponse they were look­ing for.

BioN­Tech has com­plet­ed one Phase I study in pa­tients, and Marett isn’t re­luc­tant to claim the lead in the field, not­ing that some U.S. biotechs start­ed af­ter the first pub­li­ca­tion in 2015. The Ger­man biotech now has a staff of 500, even larg­er than Mod­er­na’s 460, and it’s build­ing its sec­ond man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty in Mainz to back up the ex­pand­ing clin­i­cal plans.

Next steps in­clude tak­ing a close look at how BioN­Tech will re­al­ize its plans, in­clud­ing co-fund­ing the work with Genen­tech, ex­pand­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing, push­ing part­nered and in-house pro­grams, with a pos­si­ble IPO on the ta­ble as one re­al pos­si­bil­i­ty.

Get­ting a pow­er­house U.S. part­ner like Genen­tech in their cor­ner moves BioN­Tech clos­er to the day it can ef­fec­tive­ly start sell­ing the ther­a­pies they’re now test­ing in the clin­ic.

“We’ve got a lot of el­e­ments in the com­pa­ny that we need,” says Marett. “The thing we were miss­ing, this abil­i­ty to be able to not on­ly man­u­fac­ture but al­so com­mer­cial­ize. That’s some­thing that this deal will al­low us to do.”

The pact marks the lat­est in a string of Big Phar­ma tie-ups with the Ger­man biotech. Sanofi signed on in a $1.5 bil­lion deal last spring. Both Mod­er­na and Cure­Vac are al­so el­bow­ing in­to the mR­NA field, with big mon­ey deals of their own. And Sanofi fol­lowed up af­ter a sep­a­rate deal BioN­Tech struck with Eli Lil­ly, which has its own plans for the on­col­o­gy field.

Com­bos are the fu­ture of can­cer drugs, and BioN­Tech is acute­ly aware of the po­ten­tial the al­liance of­fers with com­bin­ing its per­son­al­ized vac­cines with Roche’s re­cent­ly ap­proved PD-L1 check­point Tecen­triq, or ate­zolizum­ab. So is Roche/Genen­tech.

“Un­like any med­i­cine we have ever de­vel­oped, vir­tu­al­ly all can­cer pa­tients may po­ten­tial­ly ben­e­fit from a cus­tom-built can­cer vac­cine,” said James Sabry, M.D., Ph.D., Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent and Glob­al Head of Genen­tech Part­ner­ing, in pre­pared text. “By col­lab­o­rat­ing with BioN­Tech on this cut­ting edge ap­proach, we hope to tru­ly ad­vance can­cer treat­ments by us­ing a com­mon mol­e­c­u­lar back­bone – mR­NA – that is unique­ly tai­lored to an in­di­vid­ual pa­tient.”

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

The End­points 11: They've got mad mon­ey and huge am­bi­tions. It's time to go big or go home

These days, selecting a group of private biotechs for the Endpoints 11 spotlight begins with a sprint to get ahead of IPOs and the M&A teams at Big Pharma. I’ve had a couple of faceplants earlier this year, watching some of the biotechs on my short list choose a quick leap onto Nasdaq or into the arms of a buyer.

Vividion, you would have been a great pick for the Endpoints 11. I’m sorry I missed you.

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Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Emma Walmsley, GlaxoSmithKline CEO (Credit: Fang Zhe/Xinhua/Alamy Live News)

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First, Pfizer applied for approval of a supplemental application for the booster shots, but since last Friday’s adcomm reviewing them, the plan has devolved into an EUA, which the FDA issued late Thursday evening.

The population that is now eligible for the booster, six months after receiving the first pair of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, also narrowed from what Pfizer applied for (everyone who’s eligible for the initial Pfizer shots) to just those who are 65 or older, or at high-risk of a Covid infection, including health care workers and others with occupational hazards.

Stéphane Bancel, AP Images

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A final look at the results of the placebo-controlled Moderna trial in the New England Journal of Medicine, published Thursday afternoon, shows how the vaccine continues to prevent Covid-19 and severe cases after more than five months following the second shot.

Of the more than 30,000 enrolled in the trial that ultimately led to the vaccine’s EUA, only two people in the vaccine group got a severe form of the disease, compared to 106 in the placebo group — leading to an efficacy of 98%.

FDA+ roundup: Bs­U­FA III ready for show­time, court tells FDA to re-work com­pound­ing plan, new guid­ance up­dates and more

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With world still in sore need of dos­es, Clover says its Covid-19 vac­cine is 67% ef­fec­tive in Phase III

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