AstraZeneca invests in saRNA specialist

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Design Cells
© GettyImages/Design Cells

Related tags saRNA Influenza Vaccines

AstraZeneca has announced a long-term research collaboration with VaxEquity for the discovery, development and commercialization of its self-amplifying RNA (saRNA) therapeutics platform.

VaxEquity was founded by Imperial College London and Morningside in 2020 based on the saRNA technology developed by Professor Robin Shattock and his colleagues at Imperial College London.

AstraZeneca has the option to collaborate with VaxEquity on up to 26 drug targets; it is also set to make an investment in VaxEquity to further the development of the saRNA platform.

As well as receiving R&D funding from AstraZeneca, Vax Equity could also receive development, approval and sales based milestones totaling up to $195m along with royalties in the mid-single digits per program, on the basis of the pharma group advancing any of the research programs into its pipeline.

Lower dosing among benefits 

VaxEquity's saRNA platform is designed to underpin the next generation of RNA-delivered medicines enabling not only vaccines but also broad range of therapeutic applications.

The team says saRNA uses similar technology to mRNA but with the added ability to self-amplify, thereby expressing proteins for longer, resulting in higher protein levels per dose level. "This has the potential to allow saRNAs to be delivered at lower concentrations than conventional mRNA therapeutics, leading to less frequent or lower dosing, lower costs, and a much broader range of potential applications."

Eventually, the parities are hoping to target novel pathways across different therapy areas that are currently not available through more traditional discovery approaches.

The near term focus though is generating proof of concept data as well as generating candidate drugs for key targets. 

saRNA vaccines 'well suited' to outbreaks

While the COVID-19 global pandemic has been detrimental to economies and health, it has provided a valuable opportunity to test saRNA vaccines in the clinic that otherwise might have taken decades, finds a paper in Vaccines​ evaluating saRNA technology.

“Given the short timespan required to design and test new saRNA vaccines (reportedly as little as 14 days in the case of Imperial College London), it is clear that this platform is particularly well-suited to outbreaks, and also possibly seasonal vaccines, such as influenza,”​ write the authors.

Continuing, they said the rapid and easy manufacture of saRNA vaccines may also pave the way for a distributed manufacturing model where vaccines are produced locally in order to minimize logistical and cold-chain issues that could hinder widespread distribution of a vaccine.

“While immense progress was made in RNA vaccine technology in 2020, the main limitations are now the stability, which requires storage at < 80°C for most RNA formulations and minimizing the required dose in order to reduce associated side effects. Overall, saRNA vaccines have made monumental strides in the past five years, and the next five years will be telling as to the clinical utility and success of this promising vaccine platform.”

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