- GlaxoSmithKline has offered up more than $1 billion to German biotech CureVac as part of a new deal aimed at developing treatments and vaccines for infectious diseases.
- CureVac is one of several biopharma companies using genetic instructions called messenger RNA to create a vaccine for the new coronavirus. While that program and one other — for a rabies vaccine — are excluded from the deal with GSK, the U.K. drugmaker said CureVac's platform should complement its existing mRNA technology and provide greater access to manufacturing.
- Per deal terms, GSK will pay CureVac 120 million euros, or about $137 million, upfront, in addition to taking an almost 10% stake in the biotech valued at 150 million euros. CureVac is also eligible for hundreds of millions of dollars worth of milestone payments. The companies will work together to research and manufacture up to five mRNA-based vaccines and monoclonal antibodies that target infectious disease pathogens, with CureVac responsible for the earlier stages of development.
GSK was slower than some of its peers to start working on coronavirus treatments. Though the company did make its adjuvant technology — which helps vaccines be more effective — available to certain research groups in early February, it wasn't until April that GSK took a prominent position in the global push for therapies.
On April 6, GSK announced a $250 million investment into San Francisco-based Vir Biotechnology, with the aim of speeding up development of two synthetic antibodies meant neutralize the virus.
Two weeks later, GSK unveiled a rare alliance with fellow European pharma giant Sanofi that put both companies at the forefront of the coronavirus vaccine race. The partnership pairs GSK's adjuvant technology with Sanofi's DNA platform that was used to create the influenza vaccine FluBlok.
In the months since, the pandemic's devastation has prodded large drugmakers to try to get ahead of other looming health crises. Recently, a group of almost two dozen companies established a fund that, against the rising threat of antibiotic resistant microbes, will hopefully result in two to four new antibiotics by 2030.
Sanofi has individually signaled its commitment to infectious disease work, announcing in June plans for a new vaccine manufacturing site and a separate research center that could help respond to future pandemic risks.
The CureVac deal suggests GSK also sees developing treatments for viruses and other pathogens as a long-term bet — one that's consistent with its profile as a top vaccine developer. That mRNA technology, though still young and largely unproven, could open up the door to treating many disease besides COVID-19 is another potential upside.
"Through the application of mRNA technology ... we hope to be able to develop and scale up advanced vaccines and therapies to treat and prevent infectious diseases quicker than ever before," Roger Connor, president of GSK Vaccines, said in a July 20 statement.
For CureVac, the deal provides a large partner with a global footprint and drugmaking expertise that should help "develop and translate the value of our platform into potential products for the world," according to acting CEO Franz-Werner Haas.
The deal also puts a significant amount of cash on the table for the small biotech. In milestones alone, CureVac is eligible for development and regulatory payments of up 320 million euros, commercial milestone payments of up to 380 million euros, and tiered royalties on any products that come out of the collaboration.
Additionally, GSK has agreed to pay 30 million euros to reserve manufacturing capacity at a commercial-scale production site that the biotech is currently building in Germany.