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AstraZeneca invests in RNA tech platform

AstraZeneca will support research using VaxEquity’s RNA platform then pay at least $195m for each candidate that enters its pipeline

AstraZeneca

After decades of research and many frustrating setbacks, RNA technology is finally having its moment in the sun as Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines spread immunity across the globe.

With expected sales of $50bn this year alone, it’s no surprise that other companies are eager to get in on the action. In August, Sanofi added Translate Bio’s mRNA platform to its pipeline and now it’s the turn of AstraZeneca (AZ).

AZ has announced that it will invest in VaxEquity, a company created by researchers at Imperial College London last year, for the discovery, development and commercialisation of its self-amplifying RNA platform.

Self-amplifying RNA (saRNA) is a new platform for developing drugs and vaccines that uses similar technology to mRNA but with an added extra – the ability to self-amplify. This means it can express proteins for longer, resulting in higher levels per dose, with the potential for saRNAs to be delivered at lower concentrations than conventional mRNA therapeutics, leading to less frequent or lower dosing, lower costs and a much broader range of potential applications, said AZ.

AZ will support the “strategic, long-term research collaboration” aimed at optimising and validating VaxEquity’s saRNA platform before applying it to “advance novel therapeutic programmes”.

Should AZ take up any of the research programmes, VaxEquity could receive milestone payments of up to $195m plus royalties in the mid-single digits for each programme. AstraZeneca has the option to collaborate on up to 26 drug targets.

“We believe self-amplifying RNA, once optimised, will allow us to target novel pathways not amenable to traditional drug discovery across our therapy areas of interest,” said Mene Pangalos, AZ’s head of biopharmaceutical R&D.

VaxEquity was founded by Imperial College London and investor group Morningside in 2020 based on the innovative saRNA technology developed by Professor Robin Shattock and colleagues.

The Imperial College researchers tried to use self-amplifying RNA technology to create a COVID-19 vaccine last year but have since changed tack to focus on developing a jab for variants or boosters. Earlier this year, Professor Shattock said that because its technology was at an earlier stage than Oxford’s when the pandemic hit, it received less funding.

Article by
Hugh Gosling

24th September 2021

From: Research

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