Germany's CureVac wins new vaccine funding from Gates Foundation

(Reuters) - German biotech firm CureVac has secured more financial backing for vaccine development projects from its investor the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, working on jabs to prevent malaria and influenza.

The research projects will run until 2020 with the aim to find drug candidates based on CureVac’s synthetic messenger RNA, or mRNA technology, that may at later stages be tested on humans, said a spokesman, declining to disclose financial terms.

Drugs or vaccines based on mRNA provide a type of genetic blueprint that can be injected into the body to instruct cells to produce out the desired therapeutic proteins, as opposed to the conventional approach of making these proteins in labs and bio-reactors.

“Successfully exploring the potential of the mRNA platform for development of a universal flu vaccine would be a consequential achievement, benefiting much of the world’s population,” said Ingmar Hoerr, CureVac’s co-founder and chief executive.

Privately-held CureVac, based in the university town of Tuebingen, has so far raised around $420 million in equity investments, with SAP cofounder Dietmar Hopp and the Gates Foundation as lead investors.

The Gates Foundation has already provided separate funding to CureVac’s work on vaccines against infectious diseases that mainly affect people in developing countries.

CureVac, which has struck commercial alliances with drugmaker’s Boehringer Ingelheim and Eli Lilly, competes in the race for mRNA treatments with biotech groups such as Massachusetts-based Moderna Therapeutics, Germany’s BioNTech and Belgium’s eTheRNA.

Reporting by Ludwig Burger, editing by David Evans