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Gates Expands Collaboration with RNA Vaccine Maker

Vaccine syringe


4 August 2015. CureVac, a designer of vaccines and therapies based on messenger RNA — genetic signals sent from DNA to a person’s cells — is expanding its partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to include a third viral disease affecting low-resource regions. Financial details of the new collaboration between the Gates Foundation and CureVac in Tubingen, Germany were 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, 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.

The Gates Foundation and CureVac are already partnering in various ways. Vaccines based on messenger RNA can be stored and shipped without refrigeration, which makes them desirable for low-resource regions, a key requirement for backing by the Gates Foundation.

In March 2015, the Gates Foundation invested €46 million ($52 million) to help CureVac continue developing its technology platforms, and build an industrial-scale manufacturing facility meeting Good Manufacturing Practice standards. In addition, the foundation provided a grant at that time for 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 were already collaborating on vaccines for rotavirus and HIV.

The expanded partnership now covers a vaccine for respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, that infects lungs and breathing passages, for which there is not yet a cure. Among children under 1 year of age, RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis — inflammation of small airways in the lungs — and pneumonia. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 57,000 children in the U.S. under the age of 5 are hospitalized for RSV each year.

The new collaboration with the Gates Foundation, as well as the earlier partnership, requires CureVac to offer any products developed with Gates funding to low-resource countries at affordable rates. However, CureVac can make available Gates-funded products in wealthier countries at market rates. CureVac likewise reserves manufacturing capacity for Gates-supported products.

In addition to vaccines, CureVac develops immunotherapies for prostate cancer and non-small cell lung cancer, with the company’s lead product, code-named CV9104, in intermediate-stage trials as a treatment for prostate cancer. Immunotherapies for a related prostate cancer condition and non-small cell lung cancer are in early-stage trials. A rabies vaccine candidate is also in early-stage clinical studies.

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