For a long time, the focus of biotech companies has been almost exclusively on cancer research. But now Biontech from Mainz is also driving forward the development of vaccines against infectious diseases. With the prestigious University of Pennsylvania (Penn), the company has now agreed to a strategic research alliance. Their goal: the development of novel vaccine candidates against infectious diseases. Biontechs research against infectious diseases is based on messenger nucleic acids, in short mRNA. For the Mainz company, it is the second deal in this area within a few months. Already in August, the company sealed an alliance with the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer for the development of RNA-based flu vaccines. Pfizer will pay up to $ 425 million to Biontech, of which $ 120 million will be prepaid. On the other hand, Biontech did not announce the financial terms of the alliance with Penn. The Mainz-based company, which until now has been largely financed by the former Hexal owners Thomas and Andreas Strüngmann, is one of the three leading research companies in the world alongside Curvac in Tübingen and the US company Moderna Area mRNA. Similar to the US competitor Moderna, Biontech has in recent years promoted a particularly aggressive expansion strategy. The company, which now has more than 700 employees, is the largest unlisted biotech company in Europe. The goal is to establish RNA as a completely new class of active ingredients and to occupy leading positions in this field as a development partner for large pharmaceutical companies and also as a producer of proprietary pharmaceutical products. Up-to-date club events
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At the moment, mRNA-based drugs are still in early clinical development. The evidence that they are actually suitable as drugs or vaccines, is still pending. But in the past few years, confidence has clearly grown among all actors that they can overcome the hurdles that are still high. RNA plays a key role in the metabolism of all cells by ensuring that gene information is translated into protein. Some researchers therefore speak of a kind of "software of nature". In principle, therefore, it is obvious to use RNA as a drug. Because theoretically, cells could be reprogrammed using RNA to produce any protein. The use as a drug failed in the past, but mainly because external RNA is decomposed by the body too quickly and therefore can have no effect. The researchers at Biontech, Curevac and Moderna, however, assume that they can overcome the obstacles with the help of special modifications of RNA.Biontech has so far focused mainly on using this RNA technology for cancer vaccines, so-called cancer vaccines. The most important development project is an individually tailored cancer vaccine, which the company is testing in several clinical trials in cooperation with the US company Genentech, a subsidiary of the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche. In addition, there are collaborations with Sanofi, Lilly and the Danish Genmab, which are also focused on the field of cancer therapy. With the recent deals Biontech now extends its activities in the field of infectious diseases. The goal, according to founder and CEO Ugur Sahin, is "to build a global immunotherapy company to cover a broad range of infectious diseases and cancers".
Biontech intensifies competition with its competitors Curevac and Moderne, both of whom, however, have been researching infectious diseases for a long time. Curevac entered into an alliance four years ago with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for vaccine development. As part of this, the founding of the Microsoft founder also joined Curevac. Modern has long been working with US pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co on mRNA-based vaccines and is already testing several products in clinical trials. Hopefully, mRNA-based vaccines have the potential for greater efficacy and, in theory, are easier and faster to produce. Biontech now hopes to gain ahead of its rivals in the field by collaborating with Drew Weissman's research group at Pennsylvania University equalize. According to Sahin, Drew and his group are leading the development of new vaccine concepts. The US researcher's group is expected to advance the preclinical development of up to ten new vaccine candidates, for which Biontech can then acquire exclusive licenses. "The collaboration fits in perfectly with our innovation-driven strategy of developing effective agents that address an unmet medical need."