Software mogul commits $104M to CureVac's cancer vax work

Dietmar Hopp--image courtesy of the Dietmar Hopp Stiftung

German multibillionaire Dietmar Hopp is putting his deep pockets at the disposal of CureVac, a biotech company pushing therapeutic cancer vaccines into Phase IIb studies. Hopp's investment group, dievini Hopp BioTech Holding, is injecting a whopping $104 million into CureVac, which is preparing new trials for a pair of RNA programs that target prostate cancer and non-small cell lung cancer.

CureVac's first task will be to run a Phase IIb study for prostate cancer on CV9103, CureVac CEO Ingmar Hoerr tells FierceBiotech, building on the knowledge drawn from a Phase I/IIa trial as well as the pioneering accomplishment Dendreon ($DNDN) achieved with Provenge. "It's quite clear what is the route to go," says Hoerr, "how the disease is progressing and when you can interfere with immunotherapies. It's also a huge market."

CureVac's approach to cancer is considerably more advanced than Dendreon's groundbreaking therapy, which has proved to be a commercial disappointment. Its lead program bristles with four antigens that can spur an immune response to castration-resistant prostate cancer, offering a multi-pronged approach to attacking the disease. In the Phase I/IIa study close to 80% of the patients demonstrated an antigen-specific immune response to at least one of the antigens in the mix. And the biotech is preparing a long-running trial that will gather hard overall survival data on patients, running into 2017. If that is successful, CureVac--or a partner--would be able to run a Phase III ending in 2020.  

CureVac has come a long way since it was originally founded with little financial support. "Now we have Mr. Hopp, who's really committed to our work, really understands the vision, to bring a new class of molecules to life." With one major investor to work with, he adds, "decisions are very fast."

Hopp, a software mogul and former CEO of SAP, has committed part of his fortune to a slate of biotech companies, including Wilex and GPC, two other German cancer drug developers. So far he's invested the lion's share of the $188 million committed to CureVac.

CureVac is also working on infectious disease programs and has a partnership in place with Sanofi Pasteur which gives the French vaccines company an option on some pre-defined pathogens. The two also are collaborating on a $33 million DARPA project.

"CureVac's RNA-technology and products have the potential to create a novel class of therapeutics for the treatment of many different diseases. Additionally, based on the novel therapeutic mechanism of mRNA vaccines, we see strong market potential which we expect will materialize through continued pipeline development and collaborations in the industry." said Friedrich von Bohlen, Ph.D., CureVac's chairman of the board of directors and managing partner at dievini Hopp Biotech.

- here's the press release