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AstraZeneca to invest in Imperial College London spin-off VaxEquity and build $360m manufacturing facility in Ireland

AstraZeneca is investing in Imperial College London spin-off VaxEquity in a deal worth up to $195million and has separately confirmed plans for a $360million manufacturing facility in Ireland.

Pascal Soriot, chief executive officer of AstraZeneca
Pascal Soriot, chief executive officer of AstraZeneca

The company is to collaborate with VaxEquity on the discovery, development and commercialisation of the proprietary self-amplifying RNA (saRNA) therapeutics platform developed at the university.

Under the deal, AstraZeneca will invest to optimise and validate VaxEquity’s saRNA platform and apply it to advance novel therapeutic programmes. It will support VaxEquity with research and development funding and, if any of the research programmes are progressed to AstraZeneca’s pipeline, VaxEquity could receive development, approval and sales based milestones totalling up to $195m, along with royalties in the mid-single digits per programme.

AstraZeneca has the option to collaborate with VaxEquity on up to 26 drug targets.

Mene Pangalos, executive vice president, biopharmaceuticals R&D, said: “This collaboration with VaxEquity adds a promising new platform to our drug discovery toolbox. We believe self-amplifying RNA, once optimised, will allow us to target novel pathways not amenable to traditional drug discovery across our therapy areas of interest.”

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

saRNA, which can be used to develop medicines and vaccines, uses similar technology to mRNA but with the ability to self-amplify, which means proteins can be expressed for longer, leading to higher protein levels per dose level.

That means saRNAs can be delivered at lower concentrations than conventional mRNA therapeutics, leading to less frequent or lower dosing, lower costs and a broader range of potential applications.

Prof Alice Gast, president of Imperial College London, said: “I am deeply proud of my colleagues’ work in pioneering self-amplifying RNA technology. This collaboration will help realise our ambition of building a lasting legacy from the great scientific advances Imperial made in this pandemic.”

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca plans to build a next-generation active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) manufacturing facility for small molecules near Dublin.

The proposed $360m site at the Alexion Campus in College Park is expected to create about 100 direct jobs, including scientists and engineers, and more indirectly.

The project was developed with the collaboration of Ireland’s investment agency, IDA Ireland.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said: “This is a tremendously proud moment for us all at AstraZeneca and I am delighted that we are bringing this very significant investment to Dublin which, with the support of the IDA, will create highly skilled jobs, nurture the country’s dynamic life sciences sector and allow for the development of high value-added medicines.”

Pam Cheng, executive vice president, global operations and IT, said: “The future manufacturing of APIs for our medicines includes compounds with highly complex synthesis, requiring next generation technologies and capabilities that can respond quickly and nimbly to rapidly-changing clinical and commercial needs. This significant investment will ensure the AstraZeneca supply network is fit for the future.”

The investment is designed to cut commercialisation lead times, costs and introduce more sustainable manufacturing processes, in line with the company’s Ambition Zero Carbon programme.

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