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Gates Investing in HIV, Tuberculosis Immunotherapies

T-cell infected by HIV

T-cell infected by HIV (NIAID, Flickr)

4 Sept. 2019. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is taking an equity stake in a biotechnology company developing immunotherapies from messenger RNA. The foundation is investing $55 million in BioNTech SE in Mainz, Germany to support the company’s programs in HIV and tuberculosis.

BioNTech develops immunotherapies from synthetic forms of messenger RNA, a nucleic acid linked to DNA, transmitted to cells for production of amino acids in proteins to carry out functions in the body. Much of the company’s current pipeline is devoted to personalized cancer treatments that go beyond messenger RNA immunotherapies to protein and small molecule drugs, and cell and gene therapies, including chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR T-cell treatments for cancer. BioNTech is also developing immunotherapies for influenza and 10 other infectious diseases, now in preclinical stages.

The Gates Foundation gives a high priority to eradication of HIV infections and vaccines to prevent infectious diseases like tuberculosis. While the scale of HIV infection worldwide has declined in the past decade, the foundation aims to accelerate the decline of HIV infection, through more effective prevention and simplified treatments. including for people already taking antiretroviral drugs.

The Gates Foundation’s $55 million investment is supporting BioNTech’s development of vaccines based on messenger RNA to prevent HIV and tuberculosis, through preclinical stages, and will be eligible for up to another $65 million in foundation grants. The funds are also supporting immunotherapies for HIV and tuberculosis, including treatments that lead to antiretroviral therapy-free HIV remission.

BioNTech is expected to further build up its infectious disease capabilities, including up to three more vaccines or therapies. The company will retain commercialization rights in developed countries for vaccine and immunotherapy candidates developed under Gates funding, and provide affordable access to the drugs in developing regions.

“Despite remarkable advances in global health since 1990,” says Lynda Stuart, the Gates Foundation’s deputy director for vaccines and immunotherapies in a BioNTech statement, “current approaches to preventing and treating tuberculosis, the world’s leading cause of death from infectious disease, and HIV infection remain inadequate.” Stuart adds that BioNTech’s messenger RNA technology offers “pathways to develop effective new immune-based therapies that could dramatically reduce the global incidence of HIV and tuberculosis.”

BioNTech is an 11-year old company spun off from Johannes-Gutenberg University in Mainz. As reported by Science & Enterprise in July, the company raised $325 million in its second venture funding round, adding to the $270 million raised in its first venture financing in January 2018.

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