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GlaxoSmithKline is expanding its capabilities in messenger RNA (mRNA) research through a new alliance with CureVac spanning up to five programs targeting infectious disease pathogens.

In addition to mRNA vaccines, those programs could also be antibody therapies. GSK (NYSE: GSK) is paying CureVac a total of £260 million (about $328 million) to kick off the alliance, which excludes the German company’s research on a potential COVID-19 vaccine. The British pharmaceutical giant will finance R&D of the programs. CureVac will handle preclinical research and clinical development through Phase 1 testing. GSK would advance further clinical development.

CureVac is eligible for up to £277 million (about $350 million) tied to development and regulatory milestones. If any of those vaccines reach the market, CureVac could earn up to £329 million (about $415 million) in commercial milestones, plus royalties from sales.

CureVac is one of several companies developing vaccines and therapies based on messenger RNA (mRNA), the genetic instructions for making proteins. The experimental technology delivers these instructions to a cell’s protein-making machinery, sparking the production of a protein intended to trigger an immune response or fight disease.

GSK already has its own mRNA research, including a program in rabies currently in early-stage testing. CureVac is developing potential mRNA therapies for cancers and diseases of the eye, liver, and lung. The company’s mRNA vaccine research includes rabies, COVID-19, yellow fever, and influenza. CureVac’s rabies work is not part of the pact with GSK.

Other companies developing mRNA vaccines include Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA), Translate Bio (NASDAQ: TBIO), and Arcturus Therapeutics (NASDAQ: ARCT).

GSK and CureVac say they will apply their combined mRNA expertise to a range of infectious disease pathogens, though they did not specify which ones. The financial terms break down to a £130 million (about $164 million) equity investment in CureVac, which represents about a 10 percent stake in the company. GSK is also paying £104 million (about $131 million) up front, plus a one-time reimbursable fee of £26 million (about $33 million) to reserve manufacturing capacity. That payment is subject to the certification of CureVac’s commercial-scale manufacturing facility currently under construction in Germany.

The alliance with GSK calls for CureVac to handle manufacturing of candidates for testing, and if approved, commercialization. The German company will keep commercialization rights for certain countries for all products covered by the agreement.

GSK is the latest drug developer to team up with CureVac on mRNA research. Others that have inked deals with the company include Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY); Boehringer Ingelheim; CRISPR Therapeutics and Casebia Therapeutics; and Genmab (NASDAQ: GMAB).

Image: iStock/oatawa

Frank Vinluan is an Xconomy editor based in Research Triangle Park. You can reach him at [email protected]. Follow @frankvinluan

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