German biopharmaceutical company BioNTech has signed a research and development (R&D) agreement with Pfizer for the development of mRNA-based vaccines to prevent influenza.

Under the multi-year partnership, BioNTech and Pfizer intend to jointly carry out R&D activities in order to advance flu vaccines.

According to the terms of the agreement, BioNTech will be responsible for completing the first human clinical study for the mRNA-based vaccines, while Pfizer will conduct further clinical development and commercialisation.

mRNA vaccines create code for a single protein or multiple proteins. It is expected that these new medicines will enable the rapid manufacture of higher potency products at a lower cost, compared to current flu vaccines.

Pfizer Vaccine Research and Development Unit senior vice-president and head Kathrin Jansen said: “Innovative vaccine approaches are urgently needed to provide improved protection against seasonal flu, and to respond rapidly and in quantity to pandemic influenza threats.

“We are looking forward to working closely with them to help bring cutting-edge mRNA influenza vaccines to the market.”

“BioNTech is one of the industry leaders in mRNA technology and we are looking forward to working closely with them to help bring cutting-edge mRNA influenza vaccines to the market to improve people’s lives.”

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The partners will combine their knowledge on the role of the immune system in treating flu with the established technologies and infrastructure to create immunotherapy treatments.

BioNTech co-founder and CEO Ugur Sahin said: “A significant presence in infectious disease supports our goal of building a global immunotherapy company that provides more effective and precise immune-mediated approaches for the prevention and treatment of serious illnesses, such as the prevention of flu and the treatment of cancer.”

The company will get $120m in upfront, equity and near-term research payments from Pfizer. It is also eligible for additional $305m in potential development, regulatory and commercial milestones, as well as receiving tiered royalties on worldwide sales after the programme reaches commercialisation.