Pfizer invests in mRNA vaccine powerhouse BioNTech

Pfizer is to pay German company BioNTech up to $425m for a multi-year collaboration in the development of more effective influenza vaccines, joining other pharma giants in a promising mRNA-based race.

Under the terms of the agreement BioNTech received an $120m upfront payment consisting of a mix of cash, equity and research support.

Pfizer has also committed to an additional $305m in line with potential regulatory and commercial milestone payments depending on the future development achievements.

Privately-held BioNTech will also receive double-digit royalty premiums associated with worldwide sales if the programme reaches the market.

Both firms will join forces to focus on research and development activities aiming to accelerate mRNA-based seasonal and pandemic flu vaccines.

But at the later stage, once the German firm completes the first clinical study, Pfizer will step up to solely take over extensive testing in humans and marketing of the product.

Kathrin Jansen, senior vice president and head of Pfizer’s Vaccine Research and Development Unit, said: “mRNA vaccines offer a novel approach to code for any protein or multiple proteins, and the potential to manufacture higher potency flu vaccines more rapidly and at a lower cost than contemporary flu vaccines.”

Ugur Sahin, Biontech
Ugur Sahin

Prof Dr Ugur Sahin, co-founder and CEO of BioNTech, added: “Today’s agreement with Pfizer is one of a number of steps that we are taking to rapidly build a sustainable R&D presence in infectious disease, combining our deep understanding of the immune system to treat disease with the cutting-edge technologies and significant infrastructure that we have built up over many years to develop immunotherapy treatments.”

The mRNA technology, if proved to be as effective as predicted, will hold the potential to disrupt the entire vaccines field.

BioNTech is one of the industry leaders in mRNA vaccine approach. The emergent field of research has already seen other drugmakers such as AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly and Sanofi partnering up with specialist biotech firms.

The company currently competes in the race for mRNA therapies with groups such as Massachusetts-based Moderna Therapeutics, Belgium’s eTheRNA and domestic rival CureVac.

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