Just a few days after Moderna wrapped up a $200 million-upfront research deal with Merck, the Boston biotech is back with another pact – this time tying up with crosstown biotech Vertex $VRTX on a cystic fibrosis development agreement.
Vertex is starting out with what amounts to a relatively small upfront for Moderna, which has struck the mother lode of deals with its promise – as yet unproven in any human trials – that your cells can be made into drug production units. Moderna gets $40 million upfront with half of that coming as a convertible note investment. And there’s another $275 million up for grabs in the form of milestone payments.
The deal marks a distinct shift in Moderna’s deal-making strategy. This is a one-asset play, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel tells me via a direct message, not like the big portfolio deals the company has done with the likes of AstraZeneca ($240 million upfront for 40 products), Alexion ($125 million for 10) and Merck. And he says that Moderna is in the process of striking more of these single-asset plays, where these numbers work fine.
In the Vertex deal, Moderna will use its mRNA tech over the next three years to see if it can get lung cells to produce functional copies of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) protein, which is defective among CF patients. The partners will also explore pulmonary mRNA delivery.
Moderna is in charge of discovery, with Vertex handling everything preclinical and on. Vertex will also cover the expenses related to the work.
For Vertex, it’s a chance to go deeper into cystic fibrosis after winning a landmark approval for Orkambi, a $259,000 drug. For Moderna, it’s the latest in a long series of collaborations that has put the company in the lab with a who’s who in drug development.
This isn’t the only effort in this field, though. Two years ago Shire aligned with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to develop a new CFTR treatment for cystic fibrosis.
“This collaboration is illustrative of our consistent strategy to partner with world class therapeutic experts in order to maximize the potential of leveraging mRNA as a novel therapeutic approach across a spectrum of serious diseases,” said Bancel in a statement. “We’re particularly excited to explore the potential of pulmonary delivery as a new modality to bring transformative mRNA medicines to patients and address unmet needs.”
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