AstraZeneca will work with Moderna Therapeutics to bring together to the market an mRNA version of Novartis’ failed heart failure drug Serelaxin.
AstraZeneca has signed a deal with US biotech Moderna Therapeutics to co-develop and co-commercialize an mRNA drug encoding for the protein hormone relaxin. The therapy has the same target as Novartis’ Serelaxin (RLX030), a drug that was dropped in March after it failed to show long-term effects in Phase III trials.
Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel argues that their strategy to encode relaxin in mRNA could overcome the main problem associated with the drug, which is a short half-life of just around 2h. The mRNA molecules produced by Moderna are stable enough to remain in the body for days, being used by the cells to produce the drug over a prolonged period of time. Novartis‘ strategy was to infuse the drug continuously over a 48h period, a process that not only is expensive, but whose effects proved to wear out fast.
With 26 million people suffering from heart failure worldwide, Moderna has opted for a long-term profit strategy. Instead of receiving the usual upfront payment, Moderna will receive 50% of the profit the drug makes in the US market as well as high double-digit royalties outside the US.
Unlike other biotechs, Moderna Therapeutics can afford this strategy because since its foundation in 2011 it has raised a whopping $1.9Bn. As part of the deal, the biotech will sponsor preclinical studies, AstraZeneca early-stage clinical trials, and both will share the costs of late-stage development.
This will be the second collaboration between Moderna and AstraZeneca in the area of cardiovascular disease. The other candidate, AZD-8601, is an mRNA molecule encoding for vascular endothelial growth factor-A (VEGF-A). This approach allows producing the drug locally within the heart without eliciting side effects elsewhere int he body.
Despite the fact that the field is still at a very early stage, the potential of mRNA is already attracting very big names and quite a lot of money. AstraZeneca partnered with German mRNA biotech Ethris in August in the area of respiratory disease, while Eli Lilly is working with CureVac and BioNTech to develop mRNA-based cancer immunotherapies.
Images via bluebay /Shutterstock; Moderna Therapeutics