Cash-laden Moderna snags $125M in Alexion RNA deal

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel

Cambridge, MA's Moderna Therapeutics is marching on with another high-dollar deal, getting $125 million up front to lend its messenger RNA platform to rare disease luminary Alexion Pharmaceuticals ($ALXN).

Under the deal, Alexion will put up $100 million in exchange for 10 options to develop rare disease drugs with Moderna's platform, tossing in another $25 million in the form of an equity investment. Through the long-term deal, Alexion will lead discovery and development efforts while Moderna will be in charge of the design and manufacture of the messenger RNA, recouping milestone payments along the way.

Moderna's technology has the promise of ostensibly transforming patient cells into drug factories, spurring in vivo production of human proteins or antibodies to attack pre-specified targets. With the Alexion agreement, the fast-growing biotech gets another chance to trumpet its platform and take strides toward commercialization, CEO Stéphane Bancel said, following up on a year full of deals and milestones.

"Given the broad potential of this new drug modality, we wanted to forge a few long-term strategic relationships with best-in-class companies," Bancel said in a statement. "As we were looking for a global leader with a proven track record in the discovery, development and global commercialization of treatments for patients with rare diseases, entering into a strategic agreement with Alexion became an obvious choice for us."

Among those "best-in-class" companies is AstraZeneca ($AZN), which last year agreed to pay out up to $420 million to get its hands on up to 40 candidates in cardiovascular and kidney diseases and certain cancers for 5 years. But beyond big-name tie-ups, Moderna is looking to make some noise of its own, closing a $110 million round in November with plans to expand its ranks and get some in-house candidates into the clinic.

The 2013 Fierce 15 winner is only about a year removed from stealth mode, and the Flagship Ventures-incubated company has made the most of its time in the spotlight, pulling down more than $500 million in financing and partnerships as it moves toward the market with its novel technology.

Flagship led Moderna's $40 million seed round in late 2012, and the company fleshed out its C-suite by convincing Bancel to leave his post as chief of the fast-growing French diagnostics outfit bioMérieux.

- read the announcement

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