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Gritstone Oncology Licenses LNP Platform from Genevant Sciences to Develop COVID-19 Vaccine

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Shares of Gritstone Oncology reached a new 52-week high price after the company advised it entered into a non-exclusive licensing agreement with Genevant Sciences to develop and commercialize self-amplifying RNA vaccines for use against SARS-CoV-2.

Biotechnology company Gritstone Oncology Inc. (GRTS:NASDAQ), which is engaged in developing next generation cancer and infectious disease immunotherapies, today announced that it entered into a nonexclusive agreement with Genevant Sciences to license that firm's LNP technology to develop and commercialize self-amplifying RNA (SAM) vaccines against SARS-CoV-2.

Gritstone Oncology explained that "Genevant is a leading nucleic acid delivery company with world-class platforms and the industry's most robust and expansive lipid nanoparticle (LNP) patent estate." The company advised that it is currently using Genevant's clinically validated LNP platform in its Phase 2 SAM neoantigen-based cancer immunotherapy testing studies.

Gritstone indicated that this is the second agreement between the two companies since October 2020. The firm mentioned that it expects to initiate a NIH-sponsored Phase 1 self-amplifying RNA COVID-19 vaccine program trial in Q1/21.

Gritstone Oncology's Co-founder, President and CEO Andrew Allen, M.D., Ph.D. commented, "We are pleased to extend our longstanding and productive collaboration with the Genevant team to include our newly launched COVID-19 program...As we continue to see new strains of SARS-CoV-2 emerge, we identified an opportunity to apply our key strengths to an innovative COVID-19 vaccine. Specifically, extending the antigenic content of a COVID-19 vaccine beyond Spike alone may open up a route to clinical protection even if Spike mutations reduce antibody binding. We believe our approach could make an important impact on COVID-19 by eliciting robust neutralizing antibody responses and plentiful anti-viral CD8+ T cells to both Spike and other key viral antigens."

Genevant Sciences' President and CEO Pete Lutwyche, Ph.D. remarked, "Optimized LNP characteristics can provide substantial advantages in safety, efficacy and pharmaceutical profiles, and Genevant scientists have been leaders in the field for two decades...We are delighted to be able to expand our existing relationship with Gritstone to combine our industry-leading LNP technology with its innovative approach to help eliminate COVID-19."

Gritstone stated that the agreement between the two firms provides that Genevant is eligible to receive up to $192 million in upfront and contingent milestone payments per product from Gritstone along with mid-single to mid-double digit percentage royalties on future product sales. Should Gritstone opt to outlicense its COVID-19 program, Genevant may also be eligible in certain cases to receive a percentage of the amounts Gritstone receives from those contracts.

Gritstone Oncology is a clinical-stage biotech firm based in Emeryville, Calif. The company focuses on the development of next generation immunotherapies for treating several types of cancer and infectious diseases. The firm stated that it utilizes its proprietary Gritstone EDGETM machine learning-based platform to predict antigens on the surface of tumors or virally-infected cells that can be recognized by the immune system. The platform then offers the "ability to develop and manufacture potent immunotherapies utilizing these antigens to potentially drive the patient's immune system to specifically attack and destroy disease-causing cells." The company indicated that it is advancing CORAL, a COVID-19 program to develop a second-generation vaccine as part of its infectious disease pipeline.

Genevant Sciences was described in the report as "a leading nucleic acid delivery company with world-class platforms, the industry's most robust and expansive lipid nanoparticle (LNP) patent estate and decades of experience and expertise in nucleic acid drug delivery and development." The company stated that its LNP platform is the first and only approved RNAi-LNP (patisiran) delivery platform allowing for a wide range of RNA-based vaccines, therapeutic protein production, and gene editing applications.

Gritstone began the day with a market capitalization of around $930 million with approximately 41.8 million shares outstanding and a short interest of about 4.0%. GRTS shares opened more than 13% lower today at $19.30 (-2.97, -13.34%) from yesterday's $22.27 closing price, but then reversed and rose to a new 52-week high price this morning of $35.20. The stock has traded today between $18.92 to $35.20 per share and is presently trading at $26.66 (+$4.39, +19.71%).


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