With failed COVID shot still dragging on earnings, CureVac tries to turn page to next-gen mRNA tech

CureVac’s first-generation COVID vaccine—a shot that failed to reach anywhere near the high efficacy bar set by rivals—is continuing to drag on the German biotech’s earnings and is expected to negatively impact sales for the rest of the year.

But the company is looking to its future, pointing to a next-generation COVID-19 shot and an influenza program in development with GlaxoSmithKline, plus a new focus on oncology thanks to a freshly signed deal with myNEO.

The company’s financials continued to be marred by “prior commitments” related to the CVnCoV vaccine, CFO Pierre Kemula said in a first-quarter earnings report released Wednesday. These impacts will continue through the year but will start to wane.

“We have resolved the majority of our past commitments and are now focusing on controlling costs and effectively driving momentum for key programs with a strong focus on our second-generation mRNA backbone in vaccines and oncology as well as on manufacturing,” Kemula said.

Some of those commitments included working out with the EU what happens to the 450 million euro ($480 million) upfront payment made by the bloc to secure access to CVnCoV. CureVac announced during fourth-quarter earnings in April that the EU was not going to require a payback for that cash provided for the now-canceled agreement to supply up to 405 million vaccine doses.

In the early days of COVID vaccine development, governments around the world made sure not to put their eggs in one basket when picking candidates to back. The EU also had signed deals with BioNTech-Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, all of which produced vaccines that entered the market.

Now, CureVac has walked away from its first shot and is eyeing a next-generation candidate with GSK, which is part of a broader partnership with the U.K. pharma. CureVac touted plans to be “at the forefront of delivering second-generation mRNA-based vaccines” in the earnings report, thanks to its “optimized second-generation mRNA backbone.”

That backbone has so far shown an improved side effect profile compared to first-generation mRNA shots in preliminary data from an influenza trial, CureVac said. The updated mRNA tech also improved intracellular mRNA translation for increased and extended protein expression, or in slightly more plain English: an earlier and stronger immune response compared to CVnCoV.

And for its COVID-19 next-gen shot dubbed CV2CoV, CureVac said recruitment is underway for a phase 1 study.

CureVac hopes the second-generation COVID jab will provide protection against one or more emerging coronavirus variant, as well as build knowledge for applying the platform toward other infectious diseases.

Advancing into new indications is also behind a new collaboration with Belgian immunotherapy biotech myNEO, which was disclosed Wednesday as well. Financial details were not revealed, but the companies plan to work together on mRNA immunotherapies for cancer. The partnership involves searching for specific antigens found on the surface of tumors using myNEO’s biological datasets, machine learning and bioinformatics platform.

When the GSK-partnered seasonal influenza trial started, CureVac became eligible for a 10 million euro ($10.6 million) milestone payment, which helped bolster revenues. Dosing for that study began in February. The GSK collaboration has so far contributed 23.7 million euros ($25 million) to CureVac as of the first three months of the year.

With the GSK cash in hand, CureVac ended the quarter with an operating loss of 15.3 million euros ($16.3 million), compared to 115.8 million euros ($123.5 million) in the same quarter a year ago. This reflects the wind-down of clinical activities for the CVnCoV Phase 2b/3 clinical trial.