AstraZeneca ups its mRNA stake through €25m Ethris deal

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AstraZeneca has entered a five-year collaboration to develop therapies for respiratory diseases based on Ethris’ messenger RNA (mRNA) technology.

AstraZeneca, through its biologics arm MedImmune, will use Ethris GmbH’s SNIM RNA technology as part of an exclusive deal to develop mRNA therapies for asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Messenger RNA (mRNA) is type of medicine which instructs ribosomes inside cells to produce a desired therapeutic protein when injected into a patient.

The platform is based on stabilized non-immunogenic mRNA which prevent normal interactions of exogenous mRNA with certain innate immune system receptors, Ethris’ head of Corporate Development Gita Dittmar told Biopharma-Reporter.

“Ethris' proprietary methods include modification of 2 nucleotide building blocks at the same time, which allows minor quantities of modified nucleotides to achieve the desired effect of escaping immune detection.”

Ethris also has proprietary nanoparticle formulations for delivery of mRNA into cells, which she added is effective in the respiratory tract after nebulization.

Gain of function mRNA therapies have the advantage of the ability to locally replace or provide intracellularly active proteins, which cannot be achieved with other therapeutic classes,” she continued.

“Therefore, mRNA has the potential to open up new opportunities in drug development that would otherwise be unavailable, and has the potential to be a very important class of drugs in the future.”

AZ and mRNA

The Anglo-Swedish pharma giant is no stranger in the mRNA space, investing heavily in a partnership with Moderna Therapeutics. Last year Moderna announced it was building a $110m manufacturing facility in Massachusetts to support its mRNA therapeutic pipeline.

And this latest venture in the space sees it shell out €25m ($29m) to Ethris, with the German biotech entitled for future R&D milestones plus royalties upon commercialisation of any products.

The proceeds from the alliance will be used to finance our ongoing proprietary development activities and operations,” Dittmar said. “We will start with a certain number of targets which can be expanded. So we will evaluate on an ongoing basis our resource needs to make this a successful collaboration.”

This is not the first experience of working with Big Biopharma for Ethris. It previously had a deal with Shire which ended when Shire de-prioritized all of their mRNA programmes after its merger with Baxalta.

Those mRNA programmes were subsequently sold to Translate Bio, but there is no license agreement between Ethris and Translate, we were told.

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