Sanofi invests in messenger RNA immunotherapies

Sanofi is to work with a German biotech firm on synthetic messenger RNAs (mRNAs) to create a new class of cancer immunotherapies.

The Paris-based firm is one of many big pharma companies looking for a next generation technology to help them compete in cancer immunotherapy, one of the hottest area in drug development at the moment.

mRNA molecules carry the genetic information needed to make proteins, and could be harnessed to stimulate the body to create its own defences against cancer.

The concept of using mRNA has been around for a number of years, but the technology is now maturing, with a number of players already in the field.

Sanofi and BioNTech will work together to discover and develop up to five cancer immunotherapies, each consisting of a mixture of synthetic mRNAs.

Sanofi will pay BioNTech $60 million in upfront and near-term milestone payments, with a further $300 million in development, regulatory and commercial milestones and other payments per product.

If commercialised successfully, BioNTech would receive tiered royalties on net sales up to double digits.

In addition, Mainz-based BioNTech has the option to co-develop and co-commercialise two of the five mRNA therapeutics products with Sanofi in Europe and the US.

BioNTech will use its proprietary mRNA technology platform in combination with immune-stimulating pharmaceuticals. As part of this effort, BioNTech will employ its mRNA formulation technology, which enables targeted mRNA delivery in vivo, to generate novel cancer immunotherapies.

“Immunotherapy has shown promise as an avenue to develop potentially curative treatments for people with cancer, and Sanofi has strategically launched a number of inter-company collaborations in this area in recent months,” said Elias Zerhouni, president, global R&D, at Sanofi. “Our collaboration with BioNTech has the potential to lay the foundation for a unique therapeutic modality in immuno-oncology.”

Another notable player in the field is US-based Moderna, which hopes to put its first mRNA drug into clinical trial within the next 12 months.

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