AstraZeneca will use Moderna Therapeutics’ messenger RNA technology to develop and commercialize new drugs for cancer and “serious” cardiovascular, metabolic, and renal diseases, under a multi-year deal that could net Moderna more than $420 million.

AZ agreed to pay Moderna $240 million up-front, plus up to an additional $180 million tied to three technical milestones. Moderna is also eligible for payments tied to development and commercial milestones, as well as royalties on drug sales ranging from high single digits to low double digits per product.

How quickly the agreement becomes effective hinges on expiration or termination of the waiting period under the Hart Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act.

AZ will lead preclinical, clinical development, and commercialization of therapeutics resulting from the agreement, while Moderna will design and manufacture the messenger RNA against selected targets. AZ has the option to select up to 40 drug products for clinical development. AZ will have exclusive access to select any target of its choice in cardiometabolic diseases, as well as selected targets in oncology, over five years for subsequent development of what the companies are calling messenger RNA therapeutics™.

Moderna’s technology uses messenger RNA to produce, in vivo, human proteins or antibodies inside patient cells that activate intracellularly or are secreted into the serum. The messenger RNA contains naturally occurring nucleotide analogues designed to stimulate the body’s ability to produce intracellular and secreted therapeutic proteins without triggering an immune system response. The secreted proteins will be released into the bloodstream with the goal of restoring function elsewhere in the body.

The messenger RNA technology could dramatically reduce the time and expense associated with creating therapeutic proteins using current recombinant technologies, AZ and Moderna say.

“Where current drug discovery technologies can target only a fraction of the disease-relevant proteins in the human genome, we have the potential to create completely new medicines to treat patients with serious cardiometabolic diseases and cancer,” AZ CEO Pascal Soriot said in a statement.

Earlier today at AZ’s Investor Day briefing in New York, Soriot led company executives in declaring the company’s commitment to growing its pipeline, in part through new partnerships and business-development deals.

Stephane Bancel, president and founding CEO of Moderna, said in the statement, “We share a common vision with AstraZeneca for how mRNA therapeutics™ will enable many new innovative drugs for targets which are totally undruggable today. We look forward to this unique opportunity where Moderna can apply its research platform, broad intellectual property portfolio, and know-how to potentially contribute significantly to AstraZeneca’s pipeline.”

Headquartered in Cambridge, MA, privately held Moderna was founded in 2010 by Flagship VentureLabs in association with scientists from Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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