In January 2023 BioNTech announced that it had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the UK government to “benefit patients”. The goal will be to accelerate clinical trials for personalised mRNA therapeutics with a target of providing personalised cancer therapies for “up to 10,000 patients by the end of 2030”.
A statement from BioNTech describes the objective as a component of a “multi-year collaboration focused on three strategic pillars: cancer immunotherapies based on mRNA or other drug classes, infectious disease vaccines, and investments into expanding BioNTech’s footprint in the UK”.
Under the MoU trial site development and patient recruitment for clinical candidates will accelerate. Using the UK’s clinical trial network, genomics, and health data assets, they hope to move faster along BioNTech’s pipeline. Following this acceleration, the collaboration will select candidates, trial sites, and set up a development plan. The aim is to be “ready to enrol the first cancer patient in the second half of 2023”.
The plans involve BioNTech’s investment in an R&D “hub” in Cambridge, with an “expected capacity of more than 70 highly skilled scientists”. It will also establish a regional headquarters in London. Furthermore, the company will “remain the local sponsor of current and upcoming new clinical trials of its programmes in the UK and will design the clinical trial protocols”.
What does this mean for patients?
The government statement suggests that cancer patients will get “early access” to trials for personalised therapies such as cancer vaccines. Access will be through the Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad, which is being developed by NHS England and Genomics England. The launch pad is intended to “rapidly identify large numbers of cancer patients who could be eligible”.
From COVID-19 to cancer
Professor Ugur Sahin is CEO and Co-Founder of BioNTech recognised the collaboration between the UK’s NHS, academia, regulatory bodies, and the private sector during the COVID-19 pandemic as “exemplary”.
“This agreement is a result of the lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic as we all experience that drug development can be accelerated without cutting corners if everyone works seamlessly together towards the same goal. Today’s agreement shows that we are committed to do the same for cancer patients.”
BioNTech has been working on the relevant technologies for “over 20 years”. The collaboration will therefore accelerate better outcomes for patients in the UK and worldwide. Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay emphasised the importance of ensuring the “best possible treatments are available as soon as possible” for cancer.
“BioNTech helped lead the world on a COVID-19 vaccine and they share our commitment to scientific advancement.”
Cancer research under pressure
Although Cancer Research UK “welcomed” the news, the charity stated concern over delays in diagnosis and treatment. Staff are coming under increasing pressure and may struggle to facilitate clinical trials. CRUK spokesperson Dr Iain Foulkes suggested that “mRNA vaccines are one of the most exciting research developments to come out of the pandemic, and there are strong hints that they could become powerful treatment options for cancer”.
“Getting there will require lots more research.”
For more on cancer vaccine development at the World Vaccine Congress in Washington 2023 get your tickets today.