AstraZeneca has inked a deal with VaxEquity, a firm producing experimental COVID-19 vaccine of U.K.’s Imperial College, to develop and market drugs for other disease areas that are based on self-amplifying RNA technology.
In consonance with the deal, VaxEquity, which is a startup by Robin Shattock- an Imperial College’s vaccinologist- could receive $195 million as a milestone payment along with the royalties on approved drugs. The company has received upfront equity investments from AstraZeneca and Morningside Ventures.
Mene Pangalos, AstraZeneca’s research chief, stated, “This collaboration with VaxEquity adds a promising new platform to our drug discovery toolbox.”
AstraZeneca, the British-Swedish biopharma, is already producing adenoviral vector vaccine for COVID-19 and now focusing to accentuate the potential of self-amplifying RNA technology used in various other therapies beyond COVID-19.
The saRNA technology is analogous to the mRNA one used by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna in their COVID vaccines, except the fact that it not only encodes information of the host cell to make coronavirus-related protein, but also replicates the RNA containing that information a number of times, hence making the doses smaller and cheaper.
The giant biopharma, under the deal, is open to collaborate on 26 drugs targeting other therapeutic areas like cancer and other rare genetic diseases.
COVID-19 vaccine produced by VaxEquity is being overhauled to produce more consistent and efficient immune response particularly keeping in view the future coronavirus variants.
Safety and efficacy data obtained from the initial trials of the vaccine are encouraging, as said by Shattock, and the results of phase I trials of the refined vaccine are expected to be available by the first quarter of the coming year.
“The reason we were slower was because we were coming from an academic setting,” Shattock said, “If we had this relationship (with AstraZeneca) at the beginning of 2020, we might have been faster.”
The U.S. based firms Gritstone Bio and Arcturus are also on the way of developing COVID-19 vaccines based on saRNA technology.