Pfiz­er hits the gas ped­al in the mR­NA flu vac­cine de­vel­op­ment race, ink­ing a $425M in­vest­ment pact with BioN­Tech

The mR­NA spe­cial­ists at BioN­Tech have added an­oth­er deep-pock­et phar­ma gi­ant to the fold.

Pfiz­er has stepped up with a $120 mil­lion cash com­mit­ment — cov­er­ing an an un­cer­tain mix of up­front cash, eq­ui­ty and near-term re­search sup­port — to get the Ger­man biotech to fo­cus its drug plat­form on sea­son­al and pan­dem­ic flu. And there’s an­oth­er $305 mil­lion on the line in po­ten­tial mile­stone pay­outs if they can score mar­ketable prod­ucts.

Con­cep­tu­al­ly, mR­NA is sim­ple. De­vel­op­ers are adapt­ing a nat­ur­al sys­tem that dis­patch­es in­struc­tions en­cod­ed in RNA that trig­gers the pro­duc­tion of ther­a­peu­tic pro­teins. Cre­at­ing a game-chang­ing plat­form tech that can or­ches­trate this process, and the man­u­fac­tur­ing op­er­a­tions need­ed to pro­duce it, is enor­mous­ly com­plex, in­spir­ing bil­lions of dol­lars worth of in­vest­ments in BioN­Tech, Cure­Vac and Mod­er­na from big play­ers like Sanofi, Genen­tech and As­traZeneca.

And now Pfiz­er is jump­ing in, which is push­ing the to­tal in­vest­ed in BioN­tech so far well past the bil­lion-dol­lar mark.


BioN­Tech’s pipeline is con­cen­trat­ed on on­col­o­gy, with can­cer vac­cines part­nered with Genen­tech as a cen­tral fo­cus. And that’s where they see a key ad­van­tage as re­searchers work with Pfiz­er on the flu.

“Some of the un­der­ly­ing mech­a­nisms are the same,” BioN­Tech COO Sean Marett tells me in his lat­est up­date. “We’ve been us­ing some of that syn­er­gy in in­fec­tious dis­eases for awhile….You can tar­get mR­NA so that you get it to the im­mune cells of choice. We re­al­ly do see that with our on­col­o­gy process.”

One of the key ad­van­tages of mR­NA for flu vac­cines is that it can elim­i­nate the oner­ous and rel­a­tive­ly ex­pen­sive egg-based sys­tem used to or­der up huge batch­es of sea­son­al flu vac­cines as the WHO makes its best guess about which vi­ral strains are like­ly to cause the most trou­ble in the midst of flu sea­son. And the same ba­sic mR­NA ap­proach can be adapt­ed from sea­son­al flu for use against sud­den pan­demics.

“Once the back­bone is op­ti­mized for ex­pres­sion in the rel­e­vant set­ting, it’s just a ques­tion of ex­chang­ing anti­gens,” adds Marett. “In our ex­pe­ri­ence with on­col­o­gy vac­cines, it’s re­al­ly quick. You need the se­quence, the trick is that your back­bone is op­ti­mized.”

For any big play­er in vac­cines, it’s the kind of tech­nol­o­gy that could dis­rupt the en­tire vac­cines field — if it works — and this is one area of mR­NA where re­searchers feel they’re on sol­id ground in search­ing for suc­cess. Not en­gag­ing with one of the lead­ers would leave them vul­ner­a­ble to be­ing cut out of the mar­ket.

Grow­ing ac­cep­tance of ac­cel­er­at­ed path­ways for nov­el treat­ments: but does reg­u­la­to­ry ap­proval lead to com­mer­cial suc­cess?

By Mwango Kashoki, MD, MPH, Vice President-Technical, and Richard Macaulay, Senior Director, of Parexel Regulatory & Access

In recent years, we’ve seen a significant uptake in the use of regulatory options by companies looking to accelerate the journey of life-saving drugs to market. In 2018, 73% of the novel drugs approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) were designated under one or more expedited development program categories (Fast Track, Breakthrough Therapy, Priority Review, and Accelerated Approval).ᶦ

Sanofi out­lines big API plans as coro­n­avirus out­break re­port­ed­ly threat­ens short­age of 150 drugs

As the world becomes increasingly dependant on Asia for the ingredients of its medicines, Sanofi sees business to be done in Europe.

The French drugmaker said it’s creating the world’s second largest active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) manufacturer by spinning out its six current sites into a standalone company: Brindisi (Italy), Frankfurt Chemistry (Germany), Haverhill (UK), St Aubin les Elbeuf (France), Újpest (Hungary) and Vertolaye (France). They have mapped out €1 billion in expected sales by 2022 and 3,100 employees for the new operations headquartered in France.

UP­DAT­ED: NGM Bio takes leap for­ward in crowd­ed NASH field

South San Francisco-based NGM Bio may have underwhelmed with its interim analysis of a key cohort from a mid-stage NASH study last fall — but stellar topline data unveiled on Monday showed the compound induced significant signs of antifibrotic activity, NASH resolution and liver fat reduction, sending the company’s stock soaring.

There are an estimated 50+ companies focused on developing drugs for non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, a common liver disease that has long flummoxed researchers. The first wave of NASH drug developers struggled with efficacy as well as safety — and companies big and small have crashed and burned.

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Mickey Kertesz, KidsandArtOrg via YouTube

Soft­Bank's newest, $165M biotech in­vest­ment looks for in­fec­tious traces in the blood

SoftBank has found its newest biotech investment.

The Japanese bank has invested $165 million into Karius, a company that uses blood tests to diagnose infectious diseases, as part of its new Vision Fund 2. The full scope of the new fund has yet to be announced, but the first and newly-beleaguered Vision Fund poured $100 billion into technology companies, including the biotechs Vir Biotechnology and Roivant and the sequencing company 10x Genomics.

Methicillin-resistant Staph aureus (Shutterstock)

FDA grants ‘break­through’ sta­tus to an­tibi­ot­ic al­ter­na­tive as Con­tra­Fect rush­es to join fight against su­per­bug

An experimental drug that promises to be the first anti-infective agent to prove superior to vancomycin — an antibiotic approved in 1958 — has notched the FDA’s “breakthrough” status.

ContraFect said the designation was based on Phase II data in which exebacase was tested against a superbug known as methicillin-resistant Staph aureus, or MRSA. In a subgroup analysis, the clinical responder rate at day 14 was 42.8% higher than that among those treated with standard of care, the company said (p=0.010).

Zhong Nanshan, CGTN via YouTube

Har­vard joins coro­n­avirus fight with $115 mil­lion and a high-pro­file Chi­nese part­ner

For two months, as the novel coronavirus swelled from a few early cases tied to a Wuhan market to a global epidemic, most of the world’s focus and dollars have flowed toward emergency initiatives: building vaccines at a record pace, plucking experimental antivirals out of freezers to see what sticks and immunizing mice for new antibodies.

Now a new and well-funded collaboration between Harvard and a top Chinese research institute will play the long game. In a 5-year, $115 million initiative backed by China Evergrande Group, researchers from the Harvard Medical School, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Guangzhou Institute for Respiratory Health will study the virus in an effort to develop therapies against infections by the novel coronavirus, known as SARS–CoV-2, and to prevent new ones.

No­var­tis gets a boost in block­buster mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis race with Roche

In the first step of what’s likely to be a long and uphill battle for the drugmaker, the FDA has accepted Novartis’s BLA submission for a new multiple sclerosis drug and given it priority review. The PDUFA date for the potential blockbuster drug is in June.

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Juergen Horn

An­i­mal health vet Juer­gen Horn makes new an­ti­body play for pets, rak­ing $15M in Se­ries A haul

Zoetis forked over $85 million in 2017 to acquire Nexvet Biopharma and its pipeline of monoclonal antibodies. Juergen Horn, Nexvet’s former chief product development officer, has now secured $15 million for his own biologic company for animals: Invetx.

Buoyed by emerging advances in gene therapies for humans, scientists have started looking at harnessing the technology for animals setting up companies such as Penn-partnered Scout Bio and George Church-founded Rejuvenate Bio. But akin to Nexvet, Invetx is working on leveraging the time-tested science of monoclonal antibodies to treat chronic diseases that afflict man’s best friend.

As coro­n­avirus out­break reach­es 'tip­ping point,' GSK lends ad­ju­vant tech to Chi­nese part­ner armed with pre­clin­i­cal vac­cine

As the coronavirus originating out of Wuhan spreads to South Korea, Italy and Iran, stoking already intense fears of a pandemic, GlaxoSmithKline has found another pair of trusted hands to place its adjuvant system. China’s Clover Biopharmaceuticals will add the adjuvant to its preclinical, protein-based vaccine candidate against SARS-CoV-2.

Clover, which is based in the inland city of Chengdu, boasts of a platform dubbed Trimer-Tag that produces covalently-trimerized fusion proteins. Its candidate, COVID-19 S-Trimer, resembles the viral spike (S)-protein found in the virus.