FRANKFURT (Reuters) – AstraZeneca has stepped up its investment in messenger RNA drugs, a promising approach in genetic therapy, by spending more than 25 million euros ($29 million) on a research alliance with German biotech start-up Ethris.
In a deal with Astra and its biotech division MedImmune, Ethris will receive 25 million euros upfront, research funding and milestone payments depending on development achievements, the German group, which was founded in 2009, said on Monday.
Biotech drugs commonly used today are made up of proteins produced by genetically modified rodent, bacteria or yeast cells, whereas messenger RNA drugs are designed to instruct the cells in the patient’s body to produce therapeutic proteins themselves.
The approach could offer a new way to tackle many hard-to-treat diseases, from cancer to infections to heart and kidney disorders.
The Ethris alliance will focus on asthma and other respiratory diseases.
Astra last year invested a further $140 million in messenger RNA specialist Moderna Therapeutics, lifting its stake in Moderna to 9 percent. AstraZeneca first invested in Moderna in 2013.
Astra’s shares plunged last month after a key cancer immunotherapy drug trial missed expectations.
Reporting by Ludwig Burger; Editing by Mark Potter