Sanofi invests €80M in BioNTech as cancer mRNA hits clinic

BioNTech's headquarters
BioNTech's headquarters (BioNTech)

Sanofi is set to invest €80 million ($91 million) in BioNTech and extend its cancer collaboration with the German mRNA specialist. The agreement comes as BioNTech and Sanofi prepare to start clinical development of the first cancer immunotherapy to emerge from their 2015 pact.

France’s Sanofi began working with BioNTech late in 2015 when it paid $60 million upfront for the rights to five discovery-stage immunotherapies. As the immunotherapies advance, Sanofi will pay up to $300 million in milestones per asset, making the deal a potentially significant piece of business for both companies. 

With that deal now bearing fruit, Sanofi has tightened its ties to BioNTech by agreeing to invest €80 million in its partner. The investment comes a year after BioNTech raised $270 million and five months after Pfizer bought a stake in the biotech as part of a deal worth $120 million in upfront and near-term payments.

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BioNTech has secured the additional funding at a time when it is advancing on multiple fronts. Most recently, the biotech has exercised its option to co-develop one of the immunotherapies covered by the Sanofi agreement.

The co-developed asset, the most advanced of the drugs in the Sanofi pact, is made up a mixture of mRNAs that encode for immunomodulatory cytokines. When injected into tumors, synthetic mRNAs can induce the production of immunomodulatory molecules that induce immunity to tumor-specific antigens. Sanofi and BioNTech think the approach avoids the anti-vector immunity and expression in distant tissue that can affect viral gene therapies and oncolytic viruses.  

BioNTech and Sanofi are yet to generate clinical data showing their assets can live up to that billing and deliver strong, highly targeted attacks on tumors. But news that the pair are working on a solid tumor trial of their lead program shows the first clinical evidence is now on the horizon.

The lead program has gone from concept to clinical development in less than three years, giving Sanofi and BioNTech a boost as they seek to carve out spaces in their respective fields. Sanofi has lagged behind its rivals in the oncology space, while BioNTech is scrapping with companies such as Moderna and CureVac for dollars and deals in the nascent mRNA sector.