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Gates Invests, Supports R&D in RNA Vaccine Maker

Nurse giving vaccine to an infant in Nicaragua (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

Nurse giving vaccine to an infant in Nicaragua (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

6 March 2015. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is making an equity investment and providing a grant to support research at CureVac GmbH, a developer of vaccines and therapies with RNA molecules. The foundation is investing €46 million ($52 million) in CureVac, in Tübingen, Germany, but the amount of the grant supporting research in vaccines at CureVac was not disclosed.

CureVac’s technology adapts messenger RNA, nucleic acids related to DNA that leave the cell nucleus and go to cells’ protein-making components. Those cell components synthesize human proteins by reading and translating the genetic code in messenger RNA into the appropriate amino acids for that protein.

The company’s technology is based on research by Ingmar Hoerr in the 1990s — Hoerr is one of CureVac’s founders — who discovered a way of controlling RNA that was previously considered too unstable for use as a treatment or vaccine. Since its founding in 2000, CureVac built three business lines based on that underlying technology.

– RNActive engages messenger RNA, or mRNA, to simulate the immune system for vaccines to protect against infectious diseases and supply immunotherapies for cancer.

– RNAdjuvant harnesses supporting RNA molecules to amplify immune response quality and quantity, and provide a boost to vaccines or immunotherapies

– RNArt adapts messenger RNA to trigger production of proteins in the body for direct disease treatments.

The Gates Foundation investment and research support aim to accelerate CureVac’s work on vaccines to prevent infectious diseases. Vaccines based on messenger RNA developed by CureVac, including two products now in early-stage clinical trials, are able to be stored and shipped without refrigeration, which makes them desirable for low-resource regions, a key requirement for backing by the Gates Foundation.

Proceeds from the Gates equity investment are expected to help CureVac continue developing its technology platforms, and build an industrial-scale manufacturing facility meeting Good Manufacturing Practice standards. CureVac’s first investor, the German life sciences venture capital company dievini Hopp BioTech, also plans to add another €21 million ($24 million) in capital to the company.

In addition, the Gates Foundation is providing a separate grant to CureVac as part of a collaboration on vaccines against infectious diseases that disproportionately affect people in the world’s poorest countries, including viral, bacterial, and parasitic disorders. CureVac and the foundation are already collaborating on vaccines for rotavirus and HIV.

“If we can teach the body to create its own natural defenses, we can revolutionize the way we treat and prevent diseases,” says Bill Gates in a joint statement. “Technologies like mRNA give us confidence to place big bets for the future.”

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Hat tip: MedCity News

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