In a bid to make better mRNA vaccines, BioNTech enters into an alliance with Matinas

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

BioNTech on Monday announced a research collaboration with Bedminster, New Jersey-based Matinas BioPharma. The alliance will evaluate how Matinas’ 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 for shingles, influenza, cancer and more. The specific vaccines covered by the Matinas deal were not disclosed.

BioNTech’s mRNA vaccines use lipid nanoparticles to protect their genetic cargoes and deliver them into cells. The fragility of mRNA requires an ultra-cold chain to store and distribute these vaccines throughout the supply chain. These lipids also introduce a risk of toxicity which makes them unsuitable for chronic use.

Matinas injects molecules into cells through its proprietary lipid nanocrystal (LNC) delivery platform. The technology encapsulates chemical and biological payloads in phospholipids. The company says its platform can handle a range of payloads, such as nucleic acids, antisense oligonucleotides, proteins, and small molecules. Matinas says the stability of its CNLs obviates the need for extreme storage temperatures in the cold chain. Other key characteristics include the ability to convert LNCs into orally administered drugs and a neutral composition that is unlikely to elicit an immune response. These characteristics remain elusive for products that employ the delivery of adeno-associated virus or lipid nanoparticles. In addition to oral delivery, Matinas also claims that its technology can be used for intravenous or intranasal drug delivery. Matinas holds an exclusive worldwide license for Rutgers University’s LNC platform.

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

Matinas technology shows its potential under a different alliance. In 2019, Matinas began a collaboration with Roche’s subsidiary, Genentech, focused on evaluating formulations of several of that company’s compounds using LNC technology. The initial 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 associated toxicity, Matinas said in its annual report. The agreement has been extended through 2022 and Genentech is evaluating a third proprietary compound to supply 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, except to say that Matinas will receive an upfront payment and exclusive access fees from BioNTech, as well as research funding. In a regulatory filing by Matinas, the company said it would receive an exclusivity fee of $2.75 million from BioNTech. The two companies have also entered into discussions on a licensing agreement for Matinas’ lipid nanocrystal technology.

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

Photo by Flickr user Marco Verch via Creative Commons license

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