Aiming to make better mRNA vaccines, BioNTech strikes up alliance with Matinas

Aiming to make better mRNA vaccines, BioNTech strikes up alliance with Matinas

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Billions of Covid-19 vaccines made with BioNTech’s messenger RNA technology have been given globally, each one dosed as an intramuscular injection into the arm. BioNTech is looking for ways to make mRNA vaccines better, and the German company is reaching across the Atlantic Ocean to partner with a biopharmaceutical company whose proprietary technology could improve on many aspects of mRNA vaccines, including the potential for oral formulations.

BioNTech announced on Monday a research collaboration with Bedminster, New Jersey-based Matinas BioPharma. The alliance will evaluate how Matinas’s proprietary drug delivery technology can be applied to BioNTech’s mRNA vaccines. In addition to its Covid vaccine, BioNTech’s pipeline includes mRNA vaccine programs in shingles, influenza, cancer and more. The specific vaccines covered by the Matinas agreement were not disclosed.

The mRNA vaccines from BioNTech use lipid nanoparticles to protect their genetic cargos and deliver them into cells. The fragility of mRNA requires an ultra-cold chain for storing and distributing these vaccines along the supply chain. These lipids also introduce a toxicity risk that makes them unsuitable for chronic use.

Matinas delivers molecules into cells with its proprietary lipid nanocrystal (LNC) delivery platform. The technology encapsulates chemical and biological payloads into phospholipids. The company says its platform can handle a range of payloads, such as nucleic acids, antisense oligonucleotides, proteins, and small molecules. Matinas claims the stability of its LNCs avoids the need for extreme cold chain storage temperatures. Other key features include the capability to make LNCs into orally administered drugs and a neutral composition that is unlikely to trigger an immune response. Those features remain elusive for products that employ adeno-associated virus or lipid nanoparticle delivery. In addition to oral delivery, Matinas also says its technology can be used for intravenous or intranasal drug delivery. Matinas holds an exclusive, global license to the LNC platform from Rutgers University.

Matinas says its technology can be used to protect molecules as they circulate in the body, and also to efficiently deliver them into target cells. The technology can make oral versions of drugs that are currently available only in intravenous formulations, as well as safer versions of drugs that are currently limited by toxicity. The Matinas drug pipeline has two anti-infective small molecule drug candidates: MAT2203 is an oral version of the anti-fungal drug amphotericin B; MAT2501 is an oral version of amikacin, an antibiotic.

The Matinas technology is flashing its potential under a different alliance. In 2019, Matinas began a collaboration with Roche subsidiary Genentech focused on evaluating formulations of several of that company’s compounds using the LNC technology. The original agreement covered up to three Genentech compounds for in vitro testing. Of the two completed programs, each demonstrated successful delivery of LNC-formulated small molecules and oligonucleotides into cells without accompanying toxicity, Matinas said in its annual report. The agreement has been extended through 2022, and Genentech is evaluating a third proprietary compound to provide Matinas for testing. The biotech said it expects additional data from this program in 2022.

BioNTech and Matinas did not disclose many financial details about the collaboration, other than to say that Matinas will receive an upfront payment and an exclusive access fee from BioNTech, plus research funding. In a Matinas regulatory filing, the company said it will receive a $2.75 million exclusivity fee from BioNTech. The two companies have also begun discussions on a licensing agreement for Matinas’s lipid nanocrystal technology.

“Accomplishing strong immune responses with low doses are crucial in the development of well-tolerated and highly effective vaccines. This can be achieved with the right technology that enables targeted vaccine delivery,” BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said in a prepared statement. “Matinas’s LNC platform demonstrates encouraging capabilities for intracellular delivery, including the opportunity for oral delivery.”

Photo by Flickr user Marco Verch via a Creative Commons license

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