Pfizer and BioNTech team up to develop a shingles mRNA vaccine, competing with GlaxoSmithKline’s flagship vaccine for the painful disease that mainly affects older people.
The US drugmaker and its German partner hope to build on their success with the Covid-19 vaccine, with BioNTech providing its own mRNA technology and Pfizer contributing its antigen research. Pfizer has previously suggested that it can continue its mRNA vaccine development alone.
Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer’s chief scientific officer, said the two continue their “journey of discovery together by advancing mRNA technology to tackle another health challenge ripe for scientific innovation, backed by our world-class manufacturing network”.
Vaccine makers are chasing invest in mRNA, which was first proven during the pandemic, in a race that will punch existing players against new entrants, such as GSK, which is collaborating with German biotechnology CureVac.
Many focus on diseases where existing vaccines are not very effective, such as as flu, or where there is none. But Pfizer and BioNTech have chosen to target shingles, for which GSK approved a vaccine in 2017.
GSK’s Shingrix is more than 90 percent efficient, but the British drugmaker has struggled to increase production to meet demand. Pfizer and BioNTech hope that an injection based on mRNA technology will be easier to scale up than Shingrix, which is a protein-based vaccine with an additive.
The UK drugmaker is banking on Shingrix as one of the major products that will drive growth, according to Emma Walmsley, CEO, face pressure of activist shareholders to revive its weak pipeline. GSK did not comment.
During the pandemic, sales of Shingrix were hit by restrictions and Covid-19 vaccine deployment, as people were reluctant to receive both shots close to each other. But in June, GSK predicted that it would double the vaccine’s revenue in the next five years. In the third quarter, Shingrix sales were £ 502 million, 34 per cent year-on-year.
About one in three Americans gets shingles in their lifetime. It is a chronic form of the virus that causes chickenpox, which remains dormant in human nerve cells and can reactivate later in life. It can cause pain that lasts beyond the episode, a condition called post-herpetic neuralgia, and in rare cases, it can lead to facial paralysis, deafness, and blindness.
BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said adults over 50 and vulnerable populations such as cancer patients were at greater risk for shingles.
“Our goal is to develop an mRNA vaccine with a favorable safety profile and high efficiency, which at the same time is more easily scalable to support global access.”
Under the agreement, which is the third collaboration between the two companies after flu and Covid-19, BioNTech will receive $ 225 million in advance, split between a $ 75 million cash payment and a $ 150 million equity investment. It will be eligible for milestone payments of up to $ 200 million and a portion of the gross profit from future product sales.
Pfizer will receive a $ 25 million advance payment for its work to identify antigen sequences for the vaccine. The US drug manufacturer will have commercialization rights, except in Germany, Turkey and certain developing countries. The parties will share development costs.