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AstraZeneca PLC (AZN) Jumps Deeper Into mRNA Drugs With Ethris Deal

8/21/2017 5:37:15 AM

AstraZeneca PLC Jumps Deeper Into mRNA Drugs With Ethris Deal August 21, 2017
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

LONDON – AstraZeneca is diving deeper into messenger RNA research to develop new therapies for one of its core focuses – respiratory disease. The company is investing about $30 million into a partnership with mRNA specialist Germany-based Ethris GmbH to develop new stabilized non-immunogenic modified RNA therapies.

The deal will see MedImmune, the biologics research division of AstraZeneca, collaborate on mRNA therapeutics targeting pulmonary problems, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. The two teams will develop the pulmonary treatments using Ethris’ proprietary SNIM RNA technology. Ethris’ proprietary mRNA technology can be targeted to the lungs where it helps to replace, inhibit or augment proteins that are involved in causing or exacerbating respiratory disease, the company said. The mRNA therapies can deliver genetic instructions to cells which drive the target cells to produce selected proteins to help prevent or fight diseases. It is also believed that mRNA-based therapeutics may also provide new opportunities to modify the course of the disease or its symptoms.

A focus on respiratory drugs has been key to AstraZeneca’s strategy, particularly since the $575 million acquisition of Takeda Pharmaceutical Company’s core respiratory business, including global rights to roflumilast, a treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The investment into Ethris comes on the heels of AstraZeneca’s disappointing Phase III Mystic trial for lung cancer. The company has since seen some redemption with its lung cancer oncology drug Imfinzi earning Breakthrough Therapy designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for patients with locally-advanced, unresectable non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) whose disease has not progressed following platinum-based chemoradiation therapy.

Using mRNA-based medications to treat certain diseases has shown promise and multiple companies are looking at the field as a potential therapy. MedImmune’s Bahija Jallal said that advances in the mRNA field over the past 10 years have made mRNA a very promising tool for clinical application. Jallal said the deal with Ethris complements MedImmune’s respiratory science pipeline. He said MedImmune is focused on early intervention and disease modification. He believes the companies can develop new pulmonary treatments by adding novel ways to target disease mechanisms that cannot be addressed by other approaches currently in MedImmune’s pipeline.
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“This collaboration validates Ethris’ leading position in development and delivery of mRNA therapies for the treatment of pulmonary diseases. This collaboration pairs our proprietary technology with the world-class expertise of AstraZeneca and MedImmune in respiratory diseases, biologics development and commercialization, and positions us to bring forward new options for patients,” Carsten Rudolph, president and chief executive officer of Ethris, said in a statement.

Under terms of the deal Ethris will receive just shy of $30 million, about €25 million, in upfront money. Additionally the company will receive an undisclosed amount in research funding and will be eligible for future research and development milestones, including sales related royalties upon commercialization. As part of the collaboration, MedImmune and parent AstraZeneca will have the option to take exclusive worldwide licenses upon completion of the research plan for each target within the collaboration.

The deal with Ethris is not AstraZeneca’s first foray into mRNA technology. Since 2013, AstraZeneca has had a partnership with Cambridge, Mass.-based Moderna Therapeutics. Last year, AstraZeneca strengthened that bond with an additional investment of $140 million.

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