The British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline has bought a 10% stake in a German biotech company that is a key player in the global race for a coronavirus vaccine as part of a deal that could eventually be worth more than £800m.
GSK on Monday said it would pay £130m for the stake in CureVac. GSK will also make a separate payment of £104m that will fund research into CureVac’s development of messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccines.
The deal does not include direct collaboration between GSK and CureVac scientists on a vaccine for Covid-19 or separate work by the German firm on rabies. However, it means GSK would benefit if investor interest in coronavirus treatments increased CureVac’s valuation.
CureVac has received investment by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropic organisation run by one of the world’s richest people, and the company was reportedly approached by officials from the Trump administration in March offering large sums of money in return for exclusive US access to any vaccine.
GSK also said mRNA-based vaccine and treatment technologies could “play a role in further improving response against future pandemics”.
CureVac, which is based in the university town of Tübingen, southern Germany, will be eligible for further payments from GSK of up to £277m if it hits development and regulatory targets, plus another £329m if it achieves commercial milestones, as well as royalties on any product sales.
The coronavirus pandemic has prompted increased scrutiny of novel vaccine technologies, as investors hope for a product with the potential for hundreds of millions or even billions of customers.
GSK, which is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, is working with French rival Sanofi on a vaccine for Covid-19. In May GSK said it planned to produce 1bn doses of adjuvants, drugs that bolster the efficacy of vaccines, next year in anticipation of Covid-19 vaccine.
CureVac’s technology uses mRNA to instruct the human body to produce its own proteins to fight diseases. Messenger RNA is a key component in the human body’s production of proteins – including antigens that stimulate the production of antibodies that fight infections.
Roger Connor, the president of GSK Vaccines, said: “GSK’s self-amplifying mRNA (SAM) vaccine technology has shown us the potential of mRNA technology to advance the science of vaccine development and CureVac’s experience complements our own expertise.
“Through the application of mRNA technology, including SAM, we hope to be able to develop and scale up advanced vaccines and therapies to treat and prevent infectious diseases quicker than ever before.”
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