September 24, 2021: -On Thursday, AstraZeneca struck a deal with the firm behind Imperial College London’s experimental Covid-19 vaccine to create and sell drugs based on its self-amplifying RNA technology platform in other disease areas.
The deal, VaxEquity, a startup founded by Imperial vaccinologist Robin Shattock, receives up to $195 million if certain milestones are met, in addition to royalties on approved drugs and equity investment from AstraZeneca and life sciences investor Morningside Ventures.
AstraZeneca produced an adenoviral vector Covid-19 vaccine and emphasized the potential of the self-amplifying RNA (siRNA) technology in novel therapeutic programs beyond the coronavirus pandemic.
“This collaboration with VaxEquity is adding a promising new platform to our drug discovery toolbox,” said AstraZeneca research chief Mene Pangalos.
The technology works similarly to the messenger RNA vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
Although, a self-amplifying RNA vaccine not only encodes the instructions for the host cell to make a coronavirus protein but many copies of the RNA containing those instructions, which means that the doses can be smaller and cheaper.
“It’s like having a manufacturing facility, and instead of having one copy of the recipe, you have multiple copies that you can hand round to multiple production lines within the cell to produce more protein,” Imperial’s Shattock told Reuters. “So that’s why it has that opportunity to use lower doses.”
The Covid-19 vaccine of Imperial is being retooled to produce a more consistent immune response with an eye on the upcoming coronavirus variants.
AstraZeneca, under the deal, has the option to collaborate on 26 drug targets for use against other therapeutic areas such as cancers and rare genetic diseases.
“We believe self-amplifying RNA, once optimized, allowing us to target novel pathways not amenable to traditional drug discovery across our therapy areas of interest,” Pangalos said.
U.S. companies Gritstone bio and Arcturus developed saRNA COVID-19 vaccines.
Shattock added that the safety data had been encouraging from initial trials of its COVID-19 vaccine, released in July ahead of peer review. That Phase I results of its refined vaccine would be ready early in the coming year.
“The reason we were slower was that we were coming from an academic setting,” he said. “If we had this relationship at the beginning of 2020, we might have been faster.”