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BioNTech partners with Autolus to boost cell therapy manufacturing

BioNTech will pay $50 million and make a $200 million investment in Autolus Therapeutics as the company most famous for its COVID-19 vaccine boosts its cell therapy capabilities.

Per deal terms, BioNTech will receive royalties on sales of Autolus’ obe-cel, a CAR-T therapy for leukemia that the Food and Drug Administration could approve by Nov. 16. The German biotech also has options to co-commercialize two earlier programs in the Autolus pipeline, dubbed AUTO1/22 and AUTO6NG, and gains access to a suite of technologies.

Perhaps more importantly, the deal allows BioNTech to tap into Autolus’ manufacturing capacity, offering a “cost-efficient set-up” to speed development of its own BNT211 cell therapy for cancer, the company said Thursday. The CAR-T treatment is being evaluated for certain types of solid tumors, and BioNTech plans to begin a pivotal Phase 2 trial in second-line or later treatment of germ cell cancer this year.

The two companies said the collaboration will help them both advance cell therapies to the market as Autolus takes advantage of the larger company’s cash and BioNTech gains clinical and commercial supply infrastructure.

As part of the deal, BioNTech will purchase $200 million of Autolus’ American Depositary Shares in a private placement. The investment will give BioNTech the right to appoint a director on Autolus’ board.

Autolus also announced an offering of more than 58 million American Depositary Shares at $6 each, raising $350 million.

The financial influx will help Autolus fund operations for longer. Previously, the company had estimated its cash holdings would be enough to keep the lights on into 2025. 

Meanwhile, BioNTech, with plenty of cash on hand from the success of its COVID-19 vaccine developed with Pfizer, has the room to bet on smaller biotechs. Last year, the company moved into antibody-drug conjugates via a licensing deal with China’s Duality Biologics. The company also bought rights to a new cancer drug from privately held OncoC4.