GlaxoSmithKline is the latest big pharma firm to invest in the hot field of messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines and therapies. GSK has signed a deal potentially worth $1.1 billion with the German biotech company CureVac to research, develop, manufacture, and commercialize up to five mRNA vaccines and mRNA-encoded monoclonal antibodies for infectious diseases.
mRNA vaccines, which encode a viral protein in a string of nucleotides, are faster to design and manufacture than traditional vaccines, based on whole viruses or viral proteins. Companies specializing in mRNA have found themselves in the limelight during the COVID-19 pandemic. The technology is still considered experimental, however, as an mRNA vaccine has yet to be approved.
CureVac was among the first companies to work on a vaccine for COVID-19 early this year. It began testing its candidate in a placebo-controlled Phase I study of 168 volunteers in June.
Large, late-stage clinical studies will soon begin for two other mRNA vaccines: one from Moderna and another from Pfizer and the German company BioNTech (see page 4). Sanofi recently invested $425 million in Translate Bio to make mRNA vaccines for infectious diseases. That duo’s COVID-19 vaccine is due to enter clinical testing by the end of the year.
CureVac’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine is not included in the deal with GSK. So far, GSK has not committed to developing a COVID-19 vaccine of its own but is supplying other firms with vaccine-boosting adjuvants.
GSK will pay CureVac more than $130 million in cash and take a 10% stake in the company worth $171 million. It will also pay CureVac about $30 million to reserve space in a manufacturing facility it is building in Germany. CureVac could also earn development and commercial milestone payments worth about $770 million.
CureVac has attracted other investors during the pandemic. The German government put $343 million into the firm in June, and the Qatar Investment Authority chipped in $126 million in July.