AstraZeneca invests and collaborates for therapeutics platform

Article by Amanda Jasi

ASTRAZENECA and Imperial College London spinoff VaxEquity have agreed to collaborate for the discovery, development, and commercialisation of a proprietary saRNA therapeutics platform developed at the university. The pharmaceutical company has also invested in VaxEquity.

Self-amplifying RNA (saRNA) is a new platform for developing medicines and vaccines using similar technology to mRNA, with the added ability to self-amplify. This means proteins are expressed for longer, resulting in higher levels of protein per dose. Thus, saRNAs could potentially be delivered at lower concentrations than conventional mRNA therapeutics, leading to less frequent or lower dosing, reduced costs, and a broader range of potential applications. The platform could underpin the next generation of RNA-delivered medicines.

The collaboration will aim to optimise and validate the saRNA platform and apply it to advance a novel therapeutics programme. It will progress the technology through proof-of-concept to allow development of multiple products. AstraZeneca has the option to collaborate on up to 26 drug targets.

If AstraZeneca advances any of the research programmes into its pipeline, VaxEquity could receive up to US$195m by achieving development, approval, and sales-based targets, as well as royalties for each programme. VaxEquity will also be supported with R&D funding from AstraZeneca.

The pharmaceutical company has also committed an undisclosed upfront investment, which comes alongside ongoing support from investment company Morningside. VaxEquity, which is dedicated to developing saRNA-based therapeutics and vaccines for unmet medical needs, was founded by Imperial College London and Morningside in 2020 based on technology developed by Robin Shattock and colleagues. Shattock is co-founder of VaxEquity and the Head of Mucosal Infection and Immunology at Imperial.

Mene Pangalos, Executive VP of AstraZeneca, said: “This collaboration with VaxEquity adds a promising new platform to our drug discovery toolbox. We believe self-amplifying RNA, once optimised, will allow us to target novel pathways not amenable to traditional drug discovery across our therapy areas of interest.”

Shattock said: “We have all seen how technologies based around RNA have been fundamental to preventing ongoing severe disease and death in major global pandemics. The prospect of further therapeutic applications adds to this technology’s great potential.”

Earlier this year, Shattock urged the UK Government to invest more in RNA technology – which has proven its value in combatting Covid-19 – to better prepare for future pandemics.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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