Sanofi sharpens focus on mRNA for cancer with equity investment in Germany's BioNTech
Sanofi is beefing up its bet on messenger RNA technology. Having already set up alliances with Ron Renaud’s Translate Bio, and Germany’s CureVac and BioNTech, the French drugmaker on Thursday said it was making an 80 million euro (roughly $91.5 million) equity investment in Mainz-based BioNTech, building on the up to $1.5 billion pact the two signed in 2015.
In late 2015, Sanofi gave BioNTech $60 million for the rights to 5 immunotherapies developed out of BioNTech’s mRNA platform, and the French vaccine maker pledged up to an additional $300 million per program in milestone payments. Today, BioNTech said one of those candidates will enter the clinic and the two partners will co-develop the drug in patients with multiple solid tumors. The unspecified experimental therapy is designed to be injected directly into the tumor, subverting the toxicity associated with systemic administration.
BioNTech declined to provide further detail on the program and its timeline, or the size of the Sanofi stake. The private company has three therapeutic platforms that utilize its mRNA tech including a personalized vaccine program for cancer, a vaccine platform for infectious disease, and a nucleoside-modified mRNA platform for applications such as protein replacement therapy.
The unicorn Moderna $MRNA — which recently pulled off a historic US IPO — has also put its faith in mRNA via its vaccines work. Sanofi is no stranger to vaccines, although its homegrown dengue vaccine was mired in controversy after fears were stoked that the injection could cause serious harm in patients who had never been infected. Still, the vaccine is approved in a plethora of regions — it was approved by the EU in December, and is under priority review at the FDA.
Earlier this week, partners Sanofi and Merck won FDA approval for their 6-in-1 shot Vaxelis for pediatric patients.
Image: Market square in Mainz, Germany — Shutterstock