Carl Hansen, AbCellera CEO

Look­ing for the next mR­NA break­through, Mod­er­na taps Ab­Cellera in mys­te­ri­ous an­ti­body dis­cov­ery deal

Mod­er­na’s suc­cess with its Covid-19 vac­cine has bust­ed the dam open on a range of po­ten­tial mR­NA ther­a­peu­tics — and now the biotech is push­ing to keep the cut­ting edge in-house. A new part­ner­ship with stand­out an­ti­body dis­cov­ery out­fit Ab­Cellera could help keep the ball in the com­pe­ti­tion’s court.

Mod­er­na will part­ner with an­ti­body play­er Ab­Cellera on up to six undis­closed tar­gets for a range of mR­NA-en­cod­ed drugs har­vest­ed from Ab­Cellera’s bustling dis­cov­ery plat­form, the com­pa­nies said Wednes­day.

Fi­nan­cial terms of the deal weren’t dis­closed, and the part­ners are stay­ing mum for now on spe­cif­ic tar­gets, but Ab­Cellera CEO Carl Hansen in­di­cat­ed to End­points News the hit list would ex­pand out past in­fec­tious dis­ease, where both com­pa­nies have large­ly fo­cused dur­ing the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic.

The deal will in­clude undis­closed re­search mile­stones due to Ab­Cellera, with Mod­er­na pick­ing up the de­vel­op­ment costs and Ab­Cellera owed roy­al­ties on the back end.

Ab­Cellera rose to in­ter­na­tion­al fame as part of its col­lab­o­ra­tion with Eli Lil­ly that has churned out mul­ti­ple an­ti­bod­ies for ther­a­peu­tic use against Covid-19. But the dis­cov­ery spe­cial­ist has some 140 projects in the works in and out of in­fec­tious dis­ease, Hansen said, and is look­ing to lever­age an en­gine that Hansen de­scribed as one of the fastest in the in­dus­try across many ther­a­peu­tic ar­eas.

For Mod­er­na, the shift in­to what is known as mR­NA-en­cod­ed an­ti­bod­ies is noth­ing new and an ear­ly fo­cus be­fore the pan­dem­ic shift­ed R&D fo­cus on­to vac­cines. The idea would be to use mR­NA to “man­u­fac­ture” mon­o­clon­al an­ti­bod­ies for ther­a­peu­tic use in vi­vo, cut­ting out the ex­pen­sive and in­fra­struc­ture-heavy pro­duc­tion process.

Pair­ing up Mod­er­na, which helped pro­vide proof-of-con­cept for the en­tire field of mR­NA ther­a­peu­tics with its Covid-19 vac­cine, and Ab­Cellera could be a force mul­ti­pli­er in terms of rapid­ly dis­cov­er­ing and de­vel­op­ing an­ti­body ther­a­peu­tics that could be game chang­ers in drug de­vel­op­ment, where mon­o­clon­al an­ti­bod­ies cur­rent­ly dom­i­nate.

“For me, one of the ex­cit­ing and big mo­ti­va­tors of this is that Mod­er­na has proven the speed at which you can de­ploy RNA-based vac­cines, and that by all rights should trans­fer well in­to oth­er ther­a­peu­tic ar­eas,” Hansen said.

While de­tails re­main slim on how ex­act­ly this col­lab­o­ra­tion will play out, Hansen said the speed at which Ab­Cellera can turn out can­di­dates and at which Mod­er­na is ca­pa­ble of han­dling pre­clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment could rapid­ly speed the part­ner­ship’s race to the clin­ic. Does that mean years or months? Hansen wouldn’t say, in­stead high­light­ing his ex­cite­ment over the po­ten­tial of both com­pa­nies work­ing to­geth­er.

“If you want­ed to in­vest in one plat­form modal­i­ty out­side of vac­cines that would be broad and have a lot of po­ten­tial, it would be hard to come up with some­thing that would beat an­ti­bod­ies just based on the di­ver­si­ty of tar­gets and the mech­a­nisms of ac­tion,” he said.

The deal is an­oth­er clue on how Mod­er­na — now one of the most high­ly-val­ued phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies in the world based in large part on the suc­cess of its Covid-19 vac­cine — could use its post-pan­dem­ic cash wind­fall to set it­self for a fu­ture full of in­no­va­tion.

Part of that plan is, of course, mR­NA and the fu­ture of that tech­nol­o­gy, but Mod­er­na has al­so planned to lean in on gene edit­ing and ge­nomics, an­nounc­ing in Au­gust it would es­tab­lish a “Mod­er­na Ge­nomics” unit to chase down cut­ting-edge ther­a­peu­tics in that space, as our founder John Car­roll out­lined at the time.

Mean­while, Mod­er­na not­ed it was look­ing for small­ish li­cens­ing deals that would com­ple­ment its grow­ing pipeline and this Ab­Cellera pact clear­ly fits the bill. Is this a sign of things to come? We’ll have to wait and see.

Why it Works: Man­u­fac­tur­ing a Vac­cine in a Mul­ti-Prod­uct Fa­cil­i­ty.

COVID-19 launched the pharmaceutical industry to the frontline in the battle against the fast-spreading global pandemic. The goal: distribute a safe, effective vaccine as quickly as possible. Major players in the vaccine market needed to partner with contract development and manufacturing organizations (CDMOs) to achieve the goal of mass vaccine quantities under expedited timelines. With CDMOs stepping up to play a critical role in the vaccine manufacturing process, multi-product CDMO facilities took the spotlight. Partnerships quickly formed as the race to save lives and fight a pandemic was on.

Habib Dable, Acceleron CEO

Days of heat­ed ru­mors cul­mi­nate in a re­port that Ac­celeron is in ad­vanced buy­out talks

Days of frothy rumors about possible M&A discussions at Acceleron were capped late Friday with a Bloomberg report asserting that the biotech company is in advanced talks for an $11 billion buyout deal.

Bloomberg was unable to identify any bidders in the deal, but speculation has been running rampant that the surging value of Acceleron stock had to be the result of leaks around the auction of the company. As of early Monday morning, we’re still awaiting the final word.

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Merck CEO Rob Davis

Mer­ck emerges as lead bid­der in po­ten­tial Ac­celeron buy­out with deal pos­si­ble this week — re­port

With rumors swirling about a potential buyout of biotech Acceleron and its lead PAH drug sotatercept, market watchers have been keeping close tabs on industry movers and shakers due up for an expensive bolt-on. According to a new report, it appears Merck may be the one.

Merck is in “advanced talks” on a deal to acquire Cambridge, MA-based Acceleron in what previous reports pegged as a potential $11 billion buyout, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. A deal could come as early as this week, according to the Journal.

Safe­ty fears force Pfiz­er to change piv­otal DMD gene ther­a­py tri­al pro­to­col

As one of the biggest players in an increasingly packed gene therapy space, Pfizer has taken an early lead over specialists like Sarepta in taking a Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) candidate into late-stage testing. But new safety fears have led Pfizer to scale back that trial, cutting out patients with certain genetic mutations.

Pfizer has amended its enrollment protocol for a Phase III test for gene therapy fordadistrogene movaparvovec in DMD after investigators flagged severe side effects tied to specific mutations, according to a letter the drugmaker sent to Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, a patient advocacy group.

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Alexander Lefterov/Endpoints News

The coro­n­avirus vac­cine that the world for­got could still help save it

Back at the beginning of the pandemic — back when we still called the virus “novel” and a single case in Washington state could make headlines — there emerged the story of the coronavirus vaccine that the world forgot.

It was an allegory for our pandemic ill-preparedness. At a time when the world had been caught so flat-footed, there were a pair of scientists who had seen the crisis coming, lab-coated Cassandras with an antidote if only the world had listened sooner.

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Anthony Fauci, NIAID director (AP Images)

NIH spot­lights trio of aca­d­e­m­ic teams chas­ing af­ter 'pan-coro­n­avirus' vac­cines

Having made loud and clear its call for new research on vaccines that can tackle future pandemics, the NIH is shedding light on some of the projects it’s funding.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has awarded around $36.3 million to three academic groups that are working on developing “pan-coronavirus vaccines” — inoculations that can protect against a diverse family of coronaviruses, especially the voracious ones like SARS-CoV-2.

Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (John Thys, Pool via AP Images)

Covid-19 roundup: Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech sub­mit vac­cine da­ta to FDA for younger chil­dren; Doc­tors kept pre­scrib­ing hy­drox­y­chloro­quine

Pfizer and BioNTech said Tuesday they submitted to FDA positive data from a Phase II/III trial of their Covid-19 vaccine in children aged 5 to less than 12 years old.

A formal EUA submission for the vaccine in these children is expected to follow “in the coming weeks,” the companies said in a statement.

The trial of 2,268 healthy participants aged 5 to less than 12 years old showed the vaccine was safe and elicited robust neutralizing antibody responses using a two-dose regimen of 10 μg doses, which is one-third the dose that’s administered to adults.

From left to right: Mark Springel, Kristina Wang, Lin Ao, Soufiane Aboulhouda

George Church, his stu­dents, and top VCs go na­tion­wide with a biotech train­ing camp

One night last fall, Floris Engelhardt sat down in her Boston apartment and logged onto a Zoom call, armed with a comic and a vague idea about starting a biotech.

Engelhardt was joining a student-run “match night.” A postdoc at MIT’s Bathe BioNanoLab, where researchers use DNA and RNA like Lego blocks for nanometer-sized structures, Engelhardt wanted to find real-world applications for her work. She sketched out — literally — a plan to use DNA origami, a decade-old technique for precisely folding DNA, to make therapies.

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Kim Smith, ViiV CEO, at GlaxoSmithKline's Investor Day

Bank­ing on in­te­grase in­hibitors as HIV cor­ner­stone, Vi­iV bags 3rd-gen­er­a­tion com­pound from Sh­iono­gi

As a 12% shareholder of ViiV Healthcare, Japan’s Shionogi has commanded a much lower profile than its fellow owners, GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer. But behind the scenes, it’s played an outsized role in the development of ViiV’s HIV drugs, coming up with the two top programs — the integrase inhibitors dolutegravir and cabotegravir — currently in ViiV’s portfolio.

And it’s time for round three.