BioNTech said today it agreed to acquire the operational antibody generation unit of MAB Discovery for an undisclosed price, in a deal that builds on two collaborations by the companies stretching back nearly six years.

The acquisition also expands the top privately-held developer of RNA-based therapeutics further into monoclonal antibody (mAb) development, with new treatments that combine the technologies in mind.

Based in Neuried, Bavaria, Germany, MAB Discovery uses a proprietary rabbit-based discovery platform to generate and develop monoclonal antibodies that are designed to target traditional proteins and receptors, as well as a wide variety of more challenging immunogens such as GPCRs and ion channels.

“The technology will be utilized with our existing proprietary platforms including RiboMABS®, a platform for generating a novel class of mRNA-encoded antibody drug candidates,” Ugur Sahin, MD, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech, said in a statement. “Having exclusive access to MAB Discovery’s finely-tuned proprietary know-how dramatically expands BioNTech’s targeting ligand repertoire and enables us to directly, rapidly, and efficiently produce new mAb candidates.”

In a 2017 study published in Nature Medicine, BioNTech researchers that showed positive preclinical data in applying RiboMABS technology toward mRNA-based in vivo delivery of T cell engaging bispecific antibodies. BioNTech researchers incorporated modified nucleosides into the pharmacologically-optimized mRNA and used liver targeting nanoparticles to ensure prolonged production in vivo.

According to the study, intravenous injection of a few micrograms of mRNA resulted in bispecific RiboMABS production in the liver cells that rapidly secreted into the circulation, reaching peak level within hours and remaining at therapeutically effective plasma concentrations for a week.

“With low doses of mRNA encoding a bispecific antibody, we get sustained production of RiboMABS comparable to those of naturally produced immunoglobulin proteins and capable of curing advanced cancers in mice,” Sahin stated in June 2017. “What we have learned about RiboMABS pharmacology provides a sound basis for moving towards first clinical testing of this approach in cancer patients.”

Five months later, in November 2017, BioNTech and MAB Discovery launched a second collaboration, building on the partnership they launched in March 2013. The value of both collaborations is undisclosed, and the companies have not discussed the resulting pipeline recently—except to say today that the partnerships have generated antibodies with MAB Discovery’s technology that are currently being further developed by BioNTech.

“Shots on goal” approach

RiboMABS are one of several platform approaches to therapeutic development used by BioNTech—what COO Sean Marett referred to in an interview with GEN earlier this month as “shots on goal.”

“If you look at our approach, we do have vaccines. We do have other mRNA programs. We have non-mRNA platforms—for example, we have an antigen-specific T cell receptors (TCRs) platform, a chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) platform, we have a bispecific antibody platform, we have a small molecule platform. And in fact, some of those other platforms will be bringing candidates into the clinic this year,” Marett said, without disclosing which platforms or which candidates will advance to clinical phases.

BioNTech has at least two RiboMABS-based candidates in preclinical development against undisclosed solid tumors in its pipeline, according to its website.

“Irrespective of the type used, the validity of mRNA to express many many kinds of antigens is a huge advantage, and that doesn’t depend on the mRNA type. However, I would preface that: In order to have therapeutic effect, you need to ensure that the mRNA that you deliver is expressed for long enough,” Marett said. “That is dependent on the sequences that you put into the mRNA to allow the RNA to be expressed in the target cell for long enough.”

BioNTech ranks first among privately-held RNA-based biopharmas with more than $1 billion raised, including a hefty $270 million Series A financing in December 2017.

Earlier this month, BioNTech received an equity investment of €80 million (approximately $91.5 million) from Sanofi, in an extension of a collaboration launched in 2015 that included an agreement to co-develop the first cancer immunotherapy candidate from the collaboration, which is entering clinical testing in multiple undisclosed solid tumors.

“The idea is to inject mRNA encoding immunomodulatory cytokines directly into the tumor, and actually cause the tumor to secrete cytokines that then attract and educate T cells to kill the tumor, but also to generate memory, such that related T cells can travel to sites different from where you inject it, to also, if they see metastasis at a different location, remove that metastasis,” Marett said.

BioNTech’s acquisition of MAB Discovery’s antibody generation unit is set to be completed in the first quarter of 2019. BioNTech plans to acquire all assets, employees, and proprietary know-how for mAb generation from MAB Discovery—which will retain ownership of and all rights to both its proprietary preclinical pipeline and existing third-party service agreements.

“MAB Discovery will now focus on further developing its proprietary mAbs with external partners,” said CEO Stephan Fischer, PhD. “This transaction will ensure the further development and expansion of MAB Discovery’s unique mAb generation platform. We are glad to see that our proprietary technology has already generated unique mAbs for BioNTech and we are proud that MAB Discovery’s operational unit will become an integral part of BioNTech and its future value generation.

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