Germany’s BioNTech raises eye-popping €290M ($325M) in Series B round to fund personalized mRNA cancer vaccines, eschewing IPO for now. Just where does German biotech stand vis-à-vis the US, Europe and China?
BioNTech AG (Mainz DEU), which was recently believed to be maneuvering for an initial public offering, instead raised $325 million in a Series B financing round. This makes it one of the biggest single private funding rounds for a biotechnology company in European history, says BioSpace.
The round was led by Fidelity Management & Research Company. New and existing investors participated, including Redmile Group, Invus, MiraeAsset Financial Group, Platinum Asset Management, Jebsen Capital, Steam Athena Capital, BVCF Management and the Struengmann Family Office. The company expects to use the funds in support of its pipeline and manufacturing infrastructure.
In May, 2019 BioNTech acquired the antibody assets and infrastructure from MabVax Therapeutics Holding (San Diego). Under the terms of that deal, BioNTech picked up MabVax’s lead candidate, MVT-5873, as well other preclinical antibody assets to expand its existing antibody portfolio and RiboMABS development capabilities. MVT-5873 is currently in Phase I development in pancreatic cancer and has been tested in 35 patients with initial positive interim data announced in February 2018.
In addition to picking up MabVax’s assets, it acquired the company’s infrastructure and laboratory equipment with plans to establish a research facility in San Diego. The company has also entered development partnerships with Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Bayer and Sanofi.
“This financing round is a significant milestone that recognizes our scientific and initial clinical track record to date,” stated Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech. “With our ongoing focus on bringing together transformative technologies, it is exciting to have the support from high-technology investors who see the accelerating convergence of biology with bioinformatics, robotics and artificial intelligence as an opportunity to develop more precise, efficacious and cost-effective individualized immunotherapies.”
The company closed on a $270 million Series A round in January 2018, led by Redmile Group. This allowed the company to move a pipeline of seven product candidates forward in eight ongoing clinical trials, receive a second GMP manufacturing license to produce its individualized neoantigen-specific immunotherapies and to expand its antibody platform.
BioNTech is a messenger RNA (mRNA) company. mRNA carries the coded messages of DNA to the ribosomes, where they are turned into proteins. Theoretically, by programming and delivering mRNA as a therapeutic, it would turn the body’s protein-manufacturing engines in the cells into drug factories.
This upsized round also suggests that investors are very optimistic about the technology. Last year, one of the other best-known mRNA companies, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna, raised a record-breaking $600 million in its IPO.
BioNTech also has non-mRNA approaches, as well as CAR-T therapies for solid tumors.
“Our philosophy is simple,” Sean Marett, chief business officer and chief operating officer of BioNTech, told Labiotech. “First of all we look at the target … then we pick the right technology to develop a product. And that’s very different from a platform, where you’re offering a technology for a number of applications.”
On June 17, 2019 BioNTech with Genmab, initiated the first-in-human Phase I/IIa clinical trial with DuoBody-PD-L1x4-1BB, a bispecific antibody, in metastatic or unresectable malignant solid tumors. The therapy is the first product candidate the companies’ global 50% cost-sharing 50% profit-sharing collaboration to make it into the clinic. The deal was signed in 2015 and expanded in 2016 to include additional targets.
So who’s this German biotech, anyway, and why all the interest among investors in throwing piles of cash at it? First, let’s take a quick look at some numbers.
Key figures of the biotech sector in Germany (2017)
|Number of dedicated biotechnology companies||646|
|Number of other biotechnology-active companies||141|
|Number of employees in biotechnology companies||21,860|
|Number of employees in the other biotechnology-active companies||23,800|
Germany claims to be the leading medical biotech nation behind the US. The industry’s strength comes from the presence of long-established and start-up companies alike. Industry, government, and the research sector are pulling in one direction to build on the thriving sector’s already strong market foundations. With the largest amount of biotech companies in Europe, world-class research infrastructure, and internationally renowned scientists, Germany has firmly established itself as an international medical biotechnology hub.
Facts & Figures
The German view is that science and industry need to work together closely in order for innovations to be commercialized successfully. German bioclusters are proving to be important new technology impulse givers in this respect.
The BioRegions are regional initiatives for the advancement of modern biotechnology in Germany. Over the past three decades, these biotechnology clusters have developed to become Europe’s leading R&D hubs. Each region facilitates collaboration between universities, R&D institutes and private sector companies.
Around 30 BioRegions are active members of AK Bioregio, whose goal is to advance the German biotechnology sector by coordinating and promoting local activities. AK BioRegio advances the exchange between regional initiatives and relays its expertise to political decision makers.
Investors benefit from easy access to networks and funding for research projects. The BioRegions also include technology parks tailored to the specific needs of biotechnology companies. Commonly known as BioParks, these centers offer an ideal infrastructure–including lab space and clean rooms – as well as a range of services for both start-up and well established companies.
Growth drivers: Biopharmaceuticals Market
Big pharmaceutical and smaller biotechnology companies alike are focusing on drug discovery and development of medicines produced by biotechnological processes. Small molecules are moving to the background in medicine development as the result of a major paradigm shift to biopharmaceuticals. This is reflected by the increasing sales of biopharmaceutical products worldwide.
According to a report by Boston Consulting Group and the Association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies, sales of biopharmaceuticals in Germany increased to EUR 10.2 billion in 2017 (growth of 10.3% compared to 2016). Growth was seen in nearly all fields of application, particularly in drugs treating immunological (e.g. rheumatic) diseases and cancer. The number of biopharmaceuticals in clinical development increased from 604 in 2014 to 639 in 2017, reflecting continued high investment in the biopharmaceutical pipeline.
In-vitro diagnostics (IVDs) are a crucial part of modern medicine: laboratory based tests performed on biological samples provide information that is key for the prevention, treatment and management of diseases. Today, around two third of all clinical diagnoses are made thanks to IVD´s. With more than EUR 2 bn in annual revenue, Germany represents the largest IVD market in Europe and second worldwide behind the USA.
Molecular diagnostics (Dx) has emerged as one of the largest and fastest growing sectors of the IVD industry. Molecular Dx already enjoys more than a 10% share of the entire German diagnostics market and boasts a growth rate more than twice that of the entire IVD market as such.
Despite China’s claim to be “leap-frogging” Europe in biotech, I think Europe is deeper than China in the science side of the biotech success model. But China is catching up. Both regions have a long way to go to catch the US, however, whether in the science aspect or financing.
My guess is that BioNTech will pursue an IPO here in the US, rather than Frankfurt or Hong Kong. And it will break all records for all previous biotech offerings. I’ll keep an eye out for the SEC registration.