AstraZeneca Dives into RNA Research with VaxEquity Collaboration

AstraZeneca_Bodo Marks/picture alliance via Getty

Bodo Marks/picture alliance via Getty Images

AstraZeneca is diving deeper into the RNA space through a collaborative partnership with London-based VaxEquity, a company focusing on the development of RNA-based vaccines developed with its self-amplifying RNA (saRNA) platform.

Through the collaboration, AstraZeneca aims to harness VaxEquity’s saRNA platform for use with its own therapeutic programs. And, from the announcement, it appears AstraZeneca intends to widely use the platform on up to 26 different drug targets. 

AstraZeneca had previously invested in the mRNA research undertaken by Moderna. However, earlier this year, the U.K. pharma giant divested its 7.7% stake in the Boston-based company for more than $1 billion. While AstraZeneca sold off its stake in Moderna, the two companies have partnered on the development of mRNA therapies for a range of cancers, as well as for cardiovascular, metabolic and renal diseases.

The VaxEquity saRNA platform is similar to mRNA programs used by the likes of Moderna and Germany’s BioNTech. However, the saRNA platform has the ability to “self-amplify,” which means the proteins will express longer and provide for a more robust response per dosing level. Additionally, the saRNA approach requires a lower dose than mRNA. This is possible due to the fact that the saRNA platform enables the “simultaneous expression of a broad range of targets and immunomodulatory proteins.” 

Using saRNA, rather than mRNA, means that a lower (1/3 to 1/10th) dose of RNA is required to provide greatly enhanced protein expression as the RNA replicates for longer post-administration. VaxEquity modifies RNA to include elements called “Innate Inhibitory Proteins” that “finely tune the innate immune response” and prevent suppression of RNA replication. That maximizes protein expression by saRNA.

Robin Shattock, head of Immunology of Infection in the Department of Infectious Diseases at Imperial College London, and co-founder of VaxEquity noted the advances mRNA has made in vaccine development over the past two years due to the ongoing pandemic. Shattock said the prospect of further therapeutic applications from saRNA “adds to this technology’s great potential.”

“With our self-amplifying RNA platform, we aim to underpin the next generation of RNA-delivered medicines enabling not only vaccines but also broad range of therapeutic applications,” VaxEquity Chairman Michael Watson said in a statement. 

Mene Pangalos, AstraZeneca’s head of Biopharmaceuticals R&D, said the collaboration adds a promising new platform to the company’s “drug discovery toolbox.” Once optimized, Pangalos believe that self-amplifying RNA will allow them to target novel pathways that are not amenable to traditional drug discovery across AstraZeneca’s core areas of interest.

Under terms of the deal, AstraZeneca made an upfront equity investment in VaxEquity. Additionally, the company could receive development, approval and sales-based milestones totaling up to $195 million. If any products from this collaboration are commercialized, VaxEquity could receive royalties in the mid-single digits per drug target.

Back to news