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CureVac inks $1.7bn deal on mRNA cancer vaccines

mRNA cancer therapeutics specialist CureVac AG has baged US$50m upfront and is eglible to receive up to US$1.7bn in development milestones plus royalties for the development of five commercial cancer vaccines arising from a new R&D deal with Eli Lilly & Co. Lilly also made an equity investment of €45m. 

The new immuno-oncology collaboration aims at developing and commercialization of up to five cancer vaccine products based on CureVac’s proprietary RNActive® technology.  Cancer neoantigens identified through the proprietary platform technology are expected to induce a more robust anti-cancer immune response in immunooncologic combination approaches.

For decades, cancer vaccines have missed endpoints in late-stage trails. However, recent deals clearly show that there might come a renaissance. Ingmar Hoerr, Ph.D., co-founder and CEO of CureVac, told European Biotechnology that “the development of cancer vaccines regained momentum, as the field has meanwhile acquired a lot of knowledge about how to combat cancer using new immunotherapy tools.” He added that combination therapy with existing standard of care such as checkpoint blockade in cancers with high mutational load is a key factor; “I see a strong potential in combining different immunotherapy approaches like Car-T-cells with direct systemic therapeutic vaccines and intratumoural injections. mRNA will play a crucial part in these therapies. Combining various immunotherapy weapons might inhibit growth of tumours and respectively metastases exceptionally.”

Under the terms of the agreement, CureVac will receive an upfront payment of US$50n and an equity investment of €45m. CureVac is eligible to receive more than US$1.7bn in development and commercialisation milestones if all five vaccines are successfully developed, plus tiered royalties on product sales. Lilly is responsible for target identification, clinical development and commercialization. CureVac will be responsible for mRNA design, formulation and manufacturing of clinical supply and retains the option to co-promote the vaccine products in Germany.

CureVac’s proprietary RNActive technology will be used to deliver mRNA that ultimately directs the human immune system to target the encoded neoantigens. These tumor-specific neoantigens instruct the patient’s existing immune system to mount a selective and potent response to eradicate the cancer.

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