Alexion licenses mRNA delivery tech from Arbutus in potential $82.5m deal

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Alexion Pharmaceuticals will use the LNP delivery licensed from Arbutus Biopharma as part of its messenger RNA therapeutics development partnership with Moderna Therapeutics.

In 2014, Alexion teamed up with Moderna in a $100m agreement to discover and develop messenger RNA (mRNA) therapeutics to treat rare diseases. And to support an undisclosed therapeutic target in the collaboration, the firm has licensed the Lipid Nanoparticle (LNP) delivery tech from Canadian biopharma firm Arbutus.

“Under the terms of the license agreement Alexion will pay Arbutus $7.5m (€7m) upfront and payments of up to $75m for achievement of development, regulatory and commercial milestones, as well as a single-digit royalty,” Arbutus CEO Mark Murray said in a call discussing his firm’s end-of-year results last week.

“Arbutus will conduct technology development work and provide manufacturing and regulatory support for which we will be fully reimbursed by Alexion,” he added. “This mRNA program for rare disease is part of Alexion's collaboration with Moderna [and] Alexion wanted access to our industry-leading LNP technology and know-how.”

The LNP technology allows RNAi drugs to be encapsulated in tiny particles – LNPs – made of lipids to be administered intravenously. These travel through the bloodstream targeting diseased tissues where they accumulate and migrate into tumour cells, triggering RNA interference (RNAi).

Alexion joins a list of pharma companies to strike a license agreement with Arbutus for the LNP technology, with firms including Bristol-Myers Squibb, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and Acuitas Therapeutics having access to the platform.

“Based on the broad applicability of our LNP technology to enable the delivery of nucleic acids, we are discussing other licensing transactions and collaborations with several other parties including companies focused on messenger-RNA and companies focused on gene editing constructs,” Murray said.

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