BioNTech secures $90M from CEPI to partner on mpox vaccine as it enters clinic

BioNTech is taking its mRNA mpox vaccine into the clinic, thanks in part to $90 million from a leading pandemic prevention organization. 

The German biotech is partnering with the Center for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), accepting up to $90 million from the foundation as part of a broader pandemic preparation initiative. Though the market is already occupied by Bavarian Nordic’s Jynneos, BioNTech and CEPI said in a release Monday that adding to the supply could be useful in future outbreaks and that developing a new shot could help prevent the spread of other orthopoxvirus-based diseases. 

BioNTech began work on its vaccine, BNT166, as mpox (formerly known as monkeypox) began to spread globally in the summer of 2022. A phase 1/2 trial just got off the ground in August and will test two similar candidates (BNT166a and BNT166c) in patients with or without prior history of mpox infection. 

“Our work on mpox could broaden the portfolio of vaccines available against this potentially deadly disease, while building our understanding of how mRNA technology performs against orthopoxviruses, a family of viruses that have long afflicted humankind and remain an ongoing threat today,” CEPI CEO Richard Hatchett, M.D., said in the release. 

The funding for BioNTech's work is part of CEPI's larger 100 Days Mission, an initiative aimed at preventing future pandemics through vaccine development. The overarching goal is to have vaccine developers ready to design and develop a new vaccine in 100 days should a dire infectious disease, like COVID-19, once again start spreading. Late last month, CEPI announced a new $80 million collaboration with the same University of Cambridge researchers behind AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine as part of the initiative.

Fellow COVID vaccine maker Moderna is also working on an mRNA-based mpox vaccine, though CEO Stéphane Bancel has maintained skepticism about whether the disease is enough of a public health threat to divert resources to the shot. Still, a phase 1/2 trial kicked off in the U.K. in August and recruitment began earlier this month. Bancel said in a recent interview with Fierce Biotech that even if the data are positive, “I don’t think we would rush into a phase 3 because I don't think it's a high priority for us.”