BioPharma, Pharma

Moderna Puts Up $120M to Start Cancer Drug R&D Alliance With Immatics

Moderna and Immatics aim to see if the combination of their respective technologies can lead to better cancer treatments spanning multiple therapeutic modalities. Milestone payments to immunotherapy developer Immatics could top $1.7 billion.

Moderna already has messenger RNA-based cancer vaccines in clinical development, but it wants to see if the T cell technology of immunotherapy developer Immatics can give its efforts a boost and it’s paying the biotech $120 million to begin a collaboration.

In addition to the upfront payment, the deal announced Monday calls for Moderna to provide its new partner with research funding for the multi-drug alliance. Milestone payments to Tubingen, Germany-based Immatics could top $1.7 billion.

Though Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna might be best known for its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine Spikevax, cancer vaccines were one of the company’s initial areas of focus. Moderna makes these vaccines by designing mRNA that gets a cell’s protein-making machinery to produce an antigen that prompts an immune response to cancer. Meanwhile, Immatics develops bispecific T cell receptor therapies (TCERs) that redirect immune cells to address cancer. The collaboration will span various modalities including bispecific TCERs, cell therapies, and cancer vaccines.

The partners aim to apply Moderna’s mRNA technology toward the in vivo expression of Immatics’s next-generation TCERs, which have an extended half-life. The alliance will also discover new mRNA-based cancer vaccines leveraging technologies from both companies. Under the deal terms, Moderna will lead clinical development and commercialization of cancer vaccines and TCER therapies that are produced under the collaboration. Moderna will also take the lead in commercializing them if they’re approved.

The third component of the alliance will evaluate Immatics’s IMA203, a T cell receptor engineered T cell that addresses a target called PRAME, in combination with Moderna’s mRNA-based cancer vaccine for that same target. Immatics is responsible for the preclinical research and Phase 1 testing of this combination. Each company retains full ownership of its PRAME therapeutic. Costs of clinical development of the experimental combination treatment will be shared.

Immatics could earn $1.7 billion in milestone payments as well as royalties from sales of approved TCER products and certain vaccines commercialized under the collaboration agreement. The deal gives Immatics an option to share in the collaboration of the most advanced TCER.

“We believe Immatics’s cancer target and TCR platforms, along with Moderna’s cutting-edge mRNA technology, represent a powerful combination that has the potential to deliver meaningful benefits to cancer patients,” Immatics Chief Innovation Officer Toni Weinschenk said in a prepared statement.

The new collaboration expands the partnership lists of both companies. Moderna has been researching cancer vaccines under an alliance with Merck. The cancer mRNA-4157 program, a personalized vaccine made from neoantigens that come from the patient, is in late-stage clinical development. Research costs for this program are split equally between Moderna and Merck. Immatics currently has strategic partnerships with Bristol Myers Squibb and Genmab.

Photo: Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg, via Getty Images