BioNTech adds STING to oncology portfolio in €40M small molecule licensing deal with Ryvu

It may have become a household name during the pandemic, but the drumbeat of announcements from BioNTech this year are a reminder that the German company has far more varied ambitions. With infectious disease and cancer vaccines in various stages of development, the biotech has now licensed a variety of small-molecule programs from Poland’s Ryvu Therapeutics.

Under the multi-target agreement, BioNtech will pay Ryvu 20 million euros ($20.7 million) upfront along with an equity investment of the same amount. Split into two parts, one side of the deal will see BioNTech secure an exclusive global license to develop and commercialize Ryvu’s STING agonist portfolio as standalone small molecules, including as monotherapies and in combination with other therapies.

The stimulator of interferon genes (STING) pathway is an immunity pathway that plays a key role both in responding to infections and autoimmune diseases as well as providing antitumor immunity. Preclinical studies have shown that Ryvu’s STING agonists were able to activate proinflammatory cytokine production and long-lasting immune responses, BioNTech said in a release.

The second part of the agreement will see the two companies jointly undertake drug discovery and research projects to develop multiple small-molecule programs for targets selected by BioNTech. The primary focus of these targets will be immune modulation for oncology, but the biotech has the option to push into other disease areas. Once candidates have been singled out for development, BioNTech will have the option to license them.

BioNTech will fund all discovery, research and development activities, with Ryvu also in line for undisclosed milestone payments and low single-digit royalties.

“Small molecules targeting novel immune signaling pathways have a great potential to increase the efficacy of cancer immunotherapies,” said BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin, M.D., in a Nov. 30 release. “The collaboration with Ryvu provides us with the opportunity to complement our immunotherapy pipeline with a portfolio of potent immunomodulatory molecules.”

BioNTech’s oncology pipeline is already well underway. The company has 19 candidates across a total of 24 clinical trials, including CAR-T cell therapy candidate BNT211. The furthest developed are phase 2 trials of melanoma vaccine BNT111 and BNT113 for HPV16-positive cancers—which both use the biotech’s FixVac platform—plus a pancreatic cancer hopeful called autogene cevumeran and the bispecific antibody immune checkpoint modulator BNT311.

A number of drug developers have been stung in their attempts to chase the STING pathway. In 2019, Novartis ended work on an intratumoral STING pathway activator candidate developed by Aduro Biotech, while Nimbus Therapeutics also pivoted away from the pathway the following year.

BioNTech isn’t the only one who still sees potential, however. AstraZeneca snagged the global rights to research, develop and bring to market STING inhibitor compounds for $12 million upfront from F-star Therapeutics last year.