GSK Secures mRNA Vaccines For Bird Flu, COVID And Seasonal Flu From Struggling Biotech CureVac

Published 14 days ago
By Forbes | Robert Hart
Thailand Rolls Out Pfizer Vaccine
(Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)

TOPLINE

British Pharma giant GSK said on Wednesday it will pay as much as $1.5 billion to take control of several mRNA vaccines from vaccine developer CureVac, sending shares of the struggling German biotech soaring during premarket trading and strengthening the British drugmaker’s vaccine portfolio as it tries to compete with the likes of Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech.

KEY FACTS

GSK said it would pay €400 million ($430 million) upfront to CureVac to take full control of developing and manufacturing mRNA vaccines for COVID-19, seasonal flu and avian influenza (bird flu).

The British drugmaker said it would pay an additional €1.05 billion ($1.13 billion) upon reaching various development, regulatory and sales milestones for the shots, as well as royalties from sales.

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The shots for COVID and flu are in mid stage clinical trials and the deal could see GSK regularly update vaccines to combat seasonal variants and potentially develop joint COVID-flu shots, while GSK said the bird flu vaccine is in the earliest stage of clinical trials.

Available data for all vaccine candidates suggest they could be “best-in-class new vaccines,” GSK said.

GSK’s chief scientific officer Tony Wood said the company is “excited about our flu/COVID-19 programmes and the opportunity to develop best-in-class mRNA vaccines to change the standard of care” and the company told Reuters the deal will not impact the size of GSK’s $140 million stake in CureVac.

Shares for GSK during trading hours in London were flat Wednesday morning but shares for Nasdaq listed CureVac were up around 25% during premarket trading and CEO Alexander Zehnder said the deal strengthens the company’s “financial position and enables us to focus on efforts in building a strong R&D pipeline.”

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WHAT HAPPENED TO CUREVAC AND WHAT WILL IT DO NOW?

mRNA specialist CureVac started working with GSK to develop shots using the technology during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pair fell behind other companies like Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech, who rapidly brought shots to market, and the duo has failed to develop shots of comparable efficacy in the time since. While pharma titan GSK, one of the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturers, was able to weather the storm, CureVac has never recovered from the precipitous drop in its share price brought about by its failure to bring an mRNA product to market, plunging from around $115 per share in mid 2021 and to around $4 today, a figure that includes today’s spike. CureVac’s dim outlook was similar in nature to that of the other mRNA specialists that rose to fame in the COVID-19 pandemic, notably Boston-based Moderna and Germany’s BioNTech, and like them CureVac is turning its attention to other medical applications of mRNA platforms. The company said it will use the cash injection to prioritize “high-value opportunities” such as mRNA cancer vaccines and other areas “of substantial unmet medical need.” CureVac also said it will lay off 30% of staff as part of a wider restructuring effort to “streamline” operations.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

CureVac said it expects to report data from early stage clinical trials of its mRNA cancer vaccine candidate for glioblastoma in the second half of 2024. By the end of 2025, CureVac said it expects to have two clinical cancer vaccine candidates ready for solid tumors and blood cancers, with clinical trials set to begin by the end of 2026. The cash from the GSK deal, alongside expected savings from restructuring, will “extend CureVac’s cash runway into 2028,” the company said.

CRUCIAL QUOTE

“Now, we can embark on a new chapter for CureVac,” Zehnder said in a statement. While describing the layoffs as unfortunate, Zehnder said he is “convinced that this is a necessary step to ensure the long-term success of CureVac.”

TANGENT

CureVac’s vaccine pipeline includes a candidate shot for H5N1 influenza, a variant of bird flu that is tearing through poultry and cattle farms in the U.S. Given growing concerns of a potential pandemic in humans brewing, it is an area that could garner GSK interest and funding for rapid development in the near future, particularly given the easily modifiable nature of mRNA vaccines that make them ideal for responding to emerging outbreaks. Vaccine rival Moderna inked a deal to secure $176 million in U.S. government funding on Tuesday to test avian flu vaccines in humans with a view to bringing a “pre-pandemic” shot to market.

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