Advancing mRNA in vaccination

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and CureVac collaborate on vaccine technology

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SEATTLE & TṺBINGEN, Germany—The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and CureVac have announced that the foundation will invest $52 million (about €46 million) in CureVac, a leading clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company specializing in messenger RNA (mRNA)-based vaccine technologies. As part of the agreement, the foundation will also provide separate funding for several projects to develop prophylactic vaccines based on CureVac’s proprietary mRNA platform. In addition, CureVac’s longstanding investor dievini Hopp BioTech announced a commitment of $24 million (about €21 million) of additional equity.
 
CureVac is pioneering the use of natural and chemically unmodified mRNA as a data carrier to instruct the human body to produce its own proteins capable of fighting a wide range of diseases. Ingmar Hoerr, co-founder and CEO of CureVac, explains the process: “The physiological role of mRNA is that of a data carrier; within cells, it makes genetic information available for translation into the corresponding protein. CureVac synthesizes mRNA from the very same building blocks found in natural mRNA containing the information for therapeutic proteins. Upon injection into patient tissue, such mRNA then enters many cells and instructs the generation of the corresponding therapeutic protein.”
 
CureVac claims its novel technology is the broadest and most advanced mRNA therapeutic platform and allows for rapid, low-cost production of multiple drugs and vaccines. Additionally, CureVac’s mRNA vaccines are thermostable, which eliminates the demand for cold-chain storage and infrastructure, a major challenge in the vaccine supply of most developing countries.
 
The Gates investment will support continued development of CureVac’s platform technology and the construction of an industrial-scale Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) production facility. As part of this partnership, CureVac and the Gates Foundation will collaborate on the development and production of numerous vaccines against infectious diseases that disproportionately affect people in the world’s poorest countries.
 
“If we can teach the body to create its own natural defenses, we can revolutionize the way we treat and prevent diseases,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Technologies like mRNA give us confidence to place big bets for the future. We are pleased to partner with CureVac, who has been pioneering this technology.”
 
“This collaboration will ensure that one of medicine’s most promising new technologies is applied to the challenge of reaching all people with the affordable, life-saving vaccines they need,” said Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
 
The Gates Foundation will provide additional funding beyond the equity investment for multiple projects developing vaccines for viral, bacterial and parasitic infectious diseases. The foundation has started work with CureVac on initial projects for diseases such as rotavirus and HIV.
 
“These projects are contracts with agreed incremental payments for performed work,” states Hoerr.
 
The rotavirus project involves design and evaluation of a non-replicating rotavirus vaccine. Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe gastroenteritis in young children.
 
“With HIV, we’re using the agile platform provided by CureVac for the iterative preclinical testing of approaches to active immunization that drives the induction of broadly neutralizing antibodies to protect against HIV infection, in collaboration with University of Washington, Weill Cornell Medical College, University of Amsterdam, Duke University, The Scripps Research Institute, Kymab Ltd. and Atreca Inc.,” Hoerr adds.
 
Other projects are under discussion and will involve diseases that are of core interest to the foundation because they attract little donor funding, largely due to the fact that those diseases are rare in wealthier countries or therapies are not available for the world’s poorest people because of the non-affordable prices.
 
“When I first met CureVac’s founders 10 years ago, their vision and technology reminded me of the beginnings of the software industry: mRNA is like software that is able to teach the body to reprogram itself in order to fight cancer and infectious disease. Even today I am not aware of any other biomolecule with such versatile potential,” said Dietmar Hopp, through dievini Hopp Biotech, the primary shareholder in CureVac. “I am delighted that Bill Gates and the foundation see it the same way.”
 
In expressing his appreciation, Hoerr said, “With the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we have found another strong and highly committed investor to support us in expanding our mRNA platform at an accelerated pace. We look forward to commencing our mutually beneficial partnership, which will allow CureVac to contribute its versatile technology to combat many serious infectious diseases while also benefiting from the foundation’s significant network and expertise in the vaccine market. We also very much appreciate the additional commitment from our longstanding investor. We feel very well positioned to scale up our GMP manufacturing capabilities in order to supply the world markets with our products.”
 
Under the terms of the agreement, any Gates Foundation-funded products will be made available by CureVac at an affordable price in poor countries. CureVac will be able to merchandise each Gates-funded product in developed countries on its own, through licensees or a combination of both. In addition, the new manufacturing facility will have dedicated capacity to focus on products resulting from Gates Foundation-related projects.


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