CureVac AG, a German biopharmaceutical company pioneering the field of mRNA-based drugs, announced the awarding of two new grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The programs will leverage CureVac’s RNActive® prophylactic vaccine technology to develop mRNA-based vaccines designed to prevent influenza and malaria infection. These vaccines, which are flexible in their applications, can be rapidly produced and have the potential to address several global vaccine challenges.
Ingmar Hoerr, Ph.D., co-founder and CEO of CureVac, commented: “We’re pleased that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has expanded our ongoing collaboration to include influenza and malaria, two of the largest global health challenges. Successfully exploring the potential of the mRNA platform for development of a universal flu vaccine would be a consequential achievement, benefitting much of the world’s population. Our mRNA platform enables the cost-effective and fast manufacturing of vaccines to prevent these and other serious diseases, potentially making a difference in the lives of millions of people around the world.”
Influenza is an annual global health concern – with this flu season being more problematic than others. Not only is this year’s strain of H3N2 one of the more severe kinds, but the virus mutated while the vaccines were being produced in eggs, reducing the efficacy of this season’s flu vaccine. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that influenza leads to approximately 290,000 to 650,000 deaths annually. The flu virus mutates frequently and epidemics and outbreaks occur in different seasonal patterns globally, factors that make it difficult to accurately predict which strains will be most virulent and should be included in the annual influenza vaccine. CureVac and the Gates Foundation plan to develop an mRNA-based universal flu vaccine offering breadth and longevity of protection against all influenza A strains for multiple seasons, possibly replacing the seasonal vaccine and eliminating the need to develop a new flu vaccine every year.
In the case of malaria, according to the latest WHO estimates, there were 216 million cases and 445,000 deaths in 2016. To combat the disease, CureVac and the Gates Foundation plan to develop an mRNA-based vaccine targeting Plasmodium falciparum malaria parasites, one malaria parasite that poses the greatest threat to humans.
In March 2015, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made a $52 million equity investment in CureVac to support continued development of CureVac’s mRNA technology platform and the construction of an industrial-scale Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) production facility. As part of that agreement, the foundation agreed to provide additional funding to develop new prophylactic vaccines against infectious diseases that disproportionately affect people in the world’s poorest countries.