Per the collaboration agreement, BioNTech will receive $120m upfront in equity and near-term research funds from Pfizer.
BioNTech will also be eligible to receive up to $305m in potential development, regulatory and commercial milestone payments. The specifics of these aggregate payment milestones have not been disclosed.
Sean Marrett, chief business and commercial officer, told us that some of the funding will go into the research program itself but some of the capital will go into development of the flu vaccine based on the research conducted.
Marrett said that they will use the company’s existing technology for this research, “It is a technology that is relatively advanced in the early phase. There’s nothing on the market yet but the infrastructure supporting mRNA in our company is already there.”
Using mRNA, Marrett said, can be more cost-effective in the manufacturing stage of vaccine development. mRNA vaccines do not require the same amount of quality control that typical virus-based vaccines do.
“If you look at analytics reports on some of the prophylactic vaccines, flu in particular, people often describe them as low margin, lower than traditional therapeutic pharmaceuticals and this, of course, may be an opportunity to improve that market,” said Marrett.
He further explained that mRNA can be changed quickly if an antigenic shift, where the virus rapidly changes from what it is originally predicted, occurs during flu season. The ability to adjust the vaccine and manufacture the revised vaccine will allow for better population protection.
BioNTech working with Pfizer on this collaboration is aimed to provide an opportunity to protect the population against pandemic threats, and may allow for further development of vaccines and immunotherapies.
Marrett explained, “In compromised populations, such as the elderly or very young, you may want to improve upon the current protection rates. mRNA can allow you to do that, we target them [mRNA] specifically for the immune system to create a stronger immune response.”
The joint research will start as soon as possible, and according to Marrett the first research meeting as already been scheduled.