Moderna's appetite for antibody tech spurs $6M bet on Nona's heavy chain only platform

Moderna has struck another deal with an antibody specialist, paying (PDF) Nona Biosciences $6 million upfront and committing up to $500 million in milestones for access to the fruits of a heavy chain only discovery platform.

The mRNA specialist partnered with the industry’s go-to antibody shop AbCellera last year to identify therapeutic antibodies against up to six targets. Since then, Moderna has scrapped chikungunya virus candidate mRNA-1944, the most advanced example of its plans to use mRNA to trigger the production of antibodies in vivo, but it is continuing to explore the potential of its platform.

Moderna’s search for its next big mRNA product has led it to Nona, a wholly owned subsidiary of Harbour BioMed that uses mice to generate fully human monoclonal antibodies. The deal makes use of the ability of the platform to generate heavy chain only antibodies, a class of molecules that are found naturally in some species and have novel properties that have attracted researchers. 

In return for its $6 million upfront fee, Moderna has secured an exclusive license to a panel of sequences against multiple targets derived from the platform plus an option on sequences against several other targets. Moderna will use the sequences to create products using nucleic acids, its area of specialization. Harbour CEO Jingsong Wang explained the significance of the deal in a statement.

“This agreement marks a significant milestone in the company's business development, validating the potential of the company's technology platforms and innovation capabilities,” Wang said. “Following a series of business achievements delivered on a global basis, we will continue to open up our technology platforms and talent and experience to innovators to empower global biotherapeutic innovation.”

For Moderna, the deal secures access to antibody technology to complement its existing expertise in the development and manufacturing of mRNA. If Moderna can unlock the antibody space, it will significantly expand the addressable market for its platform—but the approach is yet to yield an approved drug.