BioNTech adds bispecific candidate, mRNA delivery startup as cancer work takes center stage

BioNTech is spending more of its COVID cash, betting over $1 billion on a licensing deal for a phase 2 bispecific antibody, just days after closing the acquisition of a lipid nanoparticle startup. 

Chinese biotech Biotheus is handing over ex-China rights for PM8002 to BioNTech for $55 million upfront and more than $1 billion in potential milestone payments, according to an announcement Monday. The PD-L1 and VEGF-targeting drug is currently being tested in a phase 2 study in China as both a monotherapy and combination treatment in patients with solid tumors. Biothesus says the asset has so far demonstrated a “positive safety profile and encouraging antitumor activity” likely due to reduced systemic toxicity. 

The licensing deal comes a few days after BioNTech solidified its mRNA platform with new technology, buying AexeRNA and its lipid nanoparticle delivery tech. The deal was first reported by Endpoints News on Friday. A spokesperson for the German COVID-19 vaccine developer declined to disclose financial terms.

The smaller startup describes itself on LinkedIn as developing mRNA therapies using its “next generation programmable and highly potent” LNP delivery system. It was founded in 2020 by scientists at George Mason University and the University of Pennsylvania, according to the profile. A website for the company was not operational. 

The two moves underscore BioNTech’s commitment to business development as it sits atop a mountain of cash generated from early sales of its Pfizer-partnered COVID-19 vaccine. At the same time, declining sales of that same vaccine are accelerating BioNTech’s pivot toward cancer therapeutics. The company said in a third-quarter earnings call on Monday that it plans to launch nine late-stage oncology trials over the next year and half, including for PM8002. 

Collaboration has been a defining feature of BioNTech’s burgeoning oncology work, with additional partners including Genentech, OncoC4 and Genmab. Antibody-drug conjugates have been a particular focus point, as they’ve been for much of the biopharma industry. 

Less than a month ago, BioNTech took to BD to continue its ADC chase, adding a HER3-targeted asset from MediLink Therapeutics for $70 million. In April, BioNTech secured two other ADCs from Duality Biologics, including one targeting HER2.