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Sanofi Acquires mRNA Developer in $3.2B Deal

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(A. Kotok)

3 Aug. 2021. Drug maker Sanofi is purchasing biotechnology company Translate Bio, a developer of messenger RNA vaccines and therapies, and a long-time collaborator. The cash deal for Translate Bio, in Lexington, Massachusetts, is expected to bring the company’s shareholders $3.2 billion, a 30 percent premium over the stock’s closing price yesterday.

Translate Bio designs and creates therapies for diseases of the lungs and liver caused by low production of critical proteins. The company’s lead therapy product, an inhaled treatment candidate for cystic fibrosis code-named MRT5005, is in an early- and mid-stage clinical trial. Translate Bio’s other main focus is vaccines for infectious diseases, where it partners with Sanofi Pasteur, the Paris drug maker’s vaccines division, with vaccine candidates for influenza and Covid-19 in development.

Translate Bio’s technology is based on messenger RNA, or mRNA, nucleic acids derived from the genetic codes in DNA, and used by cells to produce the amino acids in proteins for cellular functions. Its technology designs mRNA as therapies to correct missing or malfunctioning proteins, which the company says restores functioning gene expression without entering the cell nucleus or changing a recipient’s genome. Translate Bio says its vaccines and treatments harness the cells’ own mechanisms to produce working proteins. This approach, says the company, helps make its therapies able to address targets previously considered undruggable.

Covid-19 and influenza vaccines in trials

Sanofi began its collaboration with Translate Bio in June 2018, as reported in Science & Enterprise. The three-year, $850 million deal called for development of five vaccines for undisclosed targets based on Translate Bio’s mRNA technology. In March 2020, the companies began development of a Covid-19 vaccine. A year later, the companies said its mRNA vaccine candidate, code-named, MRT5500, would target emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants, since other vaccines against the first Covid-19 strain made from mRNA were already authorized.

An early- and mid-stage clinical trial is assessing MRT5500 in three different formulations, and as single and double doses, against a placebo, in 330 participants. Also, an early-stage trial is evaluating the safety of an mRNA influenza vaccine targeting the H3N2 strain of the virus responsible for more severe illness, particularly in vulnerable populations.

Sanofi is acquiring Translate Bio shares for $38.00 each, a 30.3 percent premium over the stock’s closing price yesterday of $29.15. Sanofi says it plans to make mRNA a core technology of the company, integrating Translate Bio’s work with that of another recent acquisition, Tidal Therapeutics, an mRNA therapy developer addressing immune-system cells.

“A fully owned platform allows us to develop additional opportunities in the fast-evolving mRNA space,” says Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson in a statement. “We will also be able to accelerate our existing partnered programs already under development. Our goal is to unlock the potential of mRNA in other strategic areas such as immunology, oncology, and rare diseases in addition to vaccines.”

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