- BioNTech on Thursday announced a partnership with the state of Victoria to establish a messenger RNA research and manufacturing hub in Melbourne, Australia.
- Through the agreement, BioNTech will built a type of facility it’s calling a “BioNTainer,” a module equipped with the ability to produce mRNA vaccines. The hub will focus less on the commercialization of existing products and more on researching and developing new ones, including some experimental cancer treatments being tested in Australia.
- The facility is the latest mRNA hub BioNTech is trying to build outside of Germany. BioNTech has similar plans in place in Asia and Africa, and is in talks with Israeli officials regarding another deal.
BioNTech and partner Pfizer, along with rival Moderna, have been widely criticized for the inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. While shots were widely available in the U.S., U.K., Europe and elsewhere, they were much harder to come by in several other countries, particularly poorer nations that were unable to strike lucrative deals with the developers.
BioNTech and Moderna have also resisted sharing the know-how and intellectual property underlying their technology. They’ve preferred, instead, to set up mRNA manufacturing hubs.
BioNTech and Moderna first signed deals to build sites in Africa. BioNTech’s agreement involved production of malaria vaccines as well as shots for COVID-19. The first mRNA manufacturing facility in Kigali, Rwanda, started construction in June. BioNTech plans to build other facilities in Senegal and South Africa.
The planned facility in Australia will add to those efforts, though its aims are different. Australia already has a sizable life sciences industry and the majority of adults are vaccinated against COVID-19. The hub will “support Australia’s mRNA ecosystem” by curating projects and helping determine which should advance into clinical development, BioNTech said in a statement.
The site will also help BioNTech’s own clinical development efforts in Australia, particularly its growing oncology pipeline. The company is currently recruiting patients for two Phase 2 trials in Australia of cancer cell therapies BNT111 and BNT113. It’s also expanding development of BNT211, a drug prospect that combines elements of CAR-T and mRNA technologies.