Moderna Bolsters mRNA Oncology Business with Autolus' Proprietary Binders

Moderna_Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Shares of Autolus Therapeutics were up more than 12% this morning after the company announced it forged an exclusive licensing agreement with Moderna to develop new messenger RNA therapeutics for cancer.

Messenger RNA (mRNA)-focused Moderna has the rights to use Autolus’ proprietary binders for four immunology targets. London-based Autolus incorporates a range of proprietary and modular T cell programming technologies developed to better recognize cancer cells and attack them by breaking down the disease’s defense mechanisms. 

Financial terms of the deal were not revealed in the report. Also, in its announcement this morning, Autolus did not specify what targets Moderna intended to aim its technology at. 

Martin Pulé, founder and chief scientific officer of Autolus, expressed his excitement at the partnership with Moderna. 

“The use of our technology in Moderna’s mRNA platform underscores Autolus’ leadership in the development of innovative differentiated binder and cell programming technologies,” Pulé said in a statement. 

Under terms of the deal, Autolus will receive an upfront payment of an undisclosed amount of money for each target licensed by Moderna. Additionally, the company will be eligible for development and commercial milestone payments for each successfully commercialized product. Autolus is also entitled to receive royalties on any commercialized product.

Moderna has been researching mRNA technology for years, but the company became a household name due to the vaccine it developed against COVID-19. The vaccine uses mRNA technology which is designed to exploit the body’s genetic blueprint. 

As BioSpace previously reported, Moderna has a pipeline of personalized cancer vaccines that harness mRNA technology. Through the use of next-generation sequencing, the company has identified multiple mutations in a cancer cell that it calls neoepitones. 

The company uses its bioinformatics capabilities to predict 20 up to neoepitopes on a patient’s cancer cells. Using that capability, Moderna believes it can develop a vaccine candidate that encodes for those mutations and loads it into an mRNA molecule to promote a robust immune response. The vaccine is designed to teach the patient’s cells to develop the selected neoepitopes to better recognize the cancer cells. 

According to the company’s website, an mRNA-based cancer vaccine developed with Merck, dubbed mRNA-4157 has the potential to enhance clinical outcomes associated with checkpoint inhibitor therapies, including Merck’s vaunted Keytruda. The two companies are assessing the vaccine candidate in patients with resected solid tumors and in combination with Keytruda.

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