BioNTech, Genevant form mRNA pacts in rare diseases, oncology

BioNTech's headquarters. (BioNTech)

BioNTech and Genevant Sciences have entered into a broad, multipiece partnership. The agreement sets the companies up to work together on five programs targeting rare diseases and another five against cancers.

The rare disease side of the relationship is the more collaborative. That aspect of the deal will pair BioNTech’s mRNA drug discovery setup with Genevant’s lipid nanoparticle (LNP) delivery technology to create five rare disease programs. BioNTech and Genevant will evenly split the cost and profits of these programs, the most advanced of which is due to get into the clinic in 2020.

The cancer agreement is a simpler technology licensing deal. The agreement gives BioNTech the right to use Genevant’s delivery technologies in five of its oncology programs. In return, BioNTech may pay “significant commercial milestones” to Genevant.

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BioNTech thinks those potential outlays are justified in the context of what Genevant’s technologies can bring to its pipeline of mRNA oncology candidates.

“This partnership with Genevant will allow us to access a highly potent, clinically validated LNP delivery platform,” BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said in a statement. “Genevant’s liver-targeted platform complements our existing capabilities for dendritic cell-specific delivery of mRNA encoded antigens used in the development of our cancer vaccine pipeline.”

The agreements are early wins for Genevant, which began operating earlier this year when its parent company Roivant entered into a pact with Arbutus Biopharma. Arbutus licensed its LNP platform to Genevant for use outside of hepatitis B. That done, Genevant set its sights on moving 5 to 10 mRNA, RNAi and gene editing programs into the clinic by 2020. 

Hooking up with BioNTech gives Genevant a source of candidates to contribute to its ambitious R&D target, and a potential source of milestone payments to fund its operation. For BioNTech, the deals offer an opportunity to expand beyond oncology and provide it with another way to get its mRNA therapies to their targets.