CureVac and Genmab Team up to Make Antibody Cancer Drugs out of RNA

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The German biotech CureVac has signed a deal potentially worth over €1B with Danish antibody developer Genmab to develop messenger RNA drugs that carry the instructions for therapeutic antibodies to be produced inside cancer patients.

We believe that the collaboration with Genmab represents the first antibody deal in the field of mRNA,” stated Daniel Menichella, CEO of CureVac.

The partners will co-develop an mRNA drug encoding a therapeutic antibody up to the end of preclinical development. If successful, Genmab will then take over the clinical and commercial development of the cancer drug and pay CureVac undisclosed milestone fees. Over the next five years, Genmab also has the option to launch the development of three more candidates. In return, CureVac will receive a €9M payment upfront and a €20M equity investment from Genmab. For each extra drug candidate developed by Genmab, CureVac could also get up to €331M in milestone payments. 

Antibody drugs vary widely in their structure and properties. For this reason, these drugs often require tailored manufacturing and storage conditions, making the development and production process costly. This problem could be circumvented by delivering simple mRNA blueprints for antibody drugs into the patient, and turning the patient’s own cells into antibody factories. 

There are challenges to overcome on the path to making mRNA drugs encoding antibodies. As with all RNA therapies, getting the drug into cells through the cell membrane can be complex, and the immune system can also attack foreign RNA molecules, reducing their effectiveness. Furthermore, according to Mariola Fotin-Mleczek, CureVac’s CTO, it can be a hard task to make mRNA drugs that can produce the amount of antibodies needed to reach a therapeutic effect in some conditions.

There are a few companies intrigued by the prospect of encoding therapeutic antibodies in mRNA. One of the most advanced is the US giant Moderna, which dosed the first humans with this type of therapy in a phase I trial in February. The German company BioNTech is developing two preclinical mRNA drugs to produce antibodies that can treat solid tumors.

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