CRISPR, Bayer JV tap CureVac for Cas9 mRNA constructs

CRISPR Therapeutics and its joint venture with Bayer have struck a deal with CureVac. The pact tasks CureVac with developing Cas9 mRNA constructs for use by CRISPR and joint venture Casebia Therapeutics in three in vivo gene-editing liver disease programs.

CureVac will use its mRNA technology to express Cas9. By tailoring the properties of the constructs so they have more potency, shorter duration of expression and lower risk of immunogenicity than existing materials, CureVac thinks it can make them better suited to gene-editing applications. 

CRISPR and Casebia have licensed the constructs for use in three liver disease programs. The three programs all edit genes in vivo, an important area of focus for CRISPR. 

“Enabling in vivo CRISPR-based therapies is a strategic priority for CRISPR. Together with Casebia, we are continuing to make deliberate investments to access the highest quality technologies for in vivo delivery,” CRISPR president Samarth Kulkarni, Ph.D., said in a statement.

CRISPR and Casebia are making an upfront payment of undisclosed size to license the constructs. The biotechs are also on the hook for development and commercial milestones, plus royalties.

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Securing the upfront fee and potential source of ongoing revenue continues CureVac’s drive to make money from its mRNA technology. The German biotech was, by the standards of others in the mRNA field, relatively quiet on the business development front in its early years. That changed earlier this year when CureVac handed control of its U.S. operations from a scientist to a dealmaker, Daniel Menichella.

Menichella, fresh from his role in Pfizer’s takeover of Bamboo Therapeutics, arrived in May with a brief to “more directly engage pharmaceutical communities” and a “clear focus” on business development. 

CureVac began reaping the rewards of this shift in approach last month when Eli Lilly paid about $100 million for a stake in the biotech and chance to work with it on five mRNA cancer vaccines. Lilly could hand over another $1.7 billion in milestones all told. 

The deals give CureVac additional sources of money at a time when it is regrouping following the phase 2b failure of lead candidate CV9104 in metastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer.