The deal relates to the Affimer programme the two have been working on. No financial terms were disclosed, but Avacta said it may receive payments at certain development milestones and royalties on product sales if a drug goes to market.
Moderna wants to take forward “certain Affimers against a potential therapeutic target” that has been part of the pair’s research collaboration, which dates back to 2015. It has triggered an exclusivity option to do so.
Affimers are small, engineered proteins, some of which are of human origin and some plant-derived. They are capable of binding specific molecular targets, in a similar way to antibodies.
Avacta’s proteins have several innovative and distinctive features, which could potentially make them a better tool than antibodies for therapeutic applications.
They are smaller, quicker to manufacture and easier to format than antibodies, but they maintain antibody-like biologic activity when binding a target.
Dr Alastair Smith, chief executive of the UK group, said he was “delighted” the Moderna collaboration was moving towards exclusivity. He added: "This is further strong validation of the potential of the Affimer drug platform to generate differentiated therapeutic molecules for development.”
Hugely positive outcome
In a note to clients, analysts at ‘house’ broker finnCap commented: “This is a hugely positive outcome for Avacta. It not only demonstrates Avacta’s ability to generate a series of effective Affimers to a chosen target, which are likely to have undergone extensive preclinical testing by Moderna, but it also provides further external pharma validation and endorsement of the technology.
“Given Moderna’s mRNA-based approach, we could see human safety data from Moderna before Avacta itself enters the clinic with its own Affirmer in 2020, which would further enhance the value of the Affimer therapeutic platform.”
The finnCap analysts increased their target price for Avacta to 125p “to reflect the incremental value of this deal”.
In late afternoon trading, Avacta shares were 8.2% higher at 46.00p
-- Adds analyst comment, share price --