Bayer shows commitment to animal health with BioNTech R&D alliance

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Ever since German health giant Bayer anointed its new CEO, Werner Baumann, questions have been swirling about whether the company would continue its commitment to animal health. But judging from a deal the company struck on May 10, Baumann and his management team still have high hopes for Bayer’s future in animal health.

Bayer entered a development agreement with BioNTech AG, a German company that has a technology platform for making vaccines and therapeutics based on messenger RNA, or mRNA. BioNTech’s focus until now has mostly been on developing personalized immunotherapies for cancer and other diseases in people. The Bayer partnership is centered on translating the technology to the development of vaccines for farm and companion animals, according to a press release announcing the deal.

The deal is backed by a new division of Bayer called the Bayer Lifescience Center (BLSC), which is investing in collaborations aimed at fostering promising new technologies. The financial terms were not disclosed.

Sabine Bongaerts, head of animal health drug discovery at Bayer, said in the release that BioNTech’s mRNA technology is “rapidly adaptable” and “represents a unique opportunity in the development of novel therapeutics and new vaccines to meet new disease challenges for both humans and animals.”

The BioNTech alliance comes just a month after Baumann told reporters he was pondering whether Bayer’s animal health business might be better off “in a different environment.” Under previous CEO Marijn Dekkers, Bayer repeatedly failed to bulk up its animal health business. First it lost the opportunity to pick up animal health assets from Schering-Plough, then it lost out to Eli Lilly ($LLY) in a bid to acquire Novartis ($NVS) Animal Health.

During the April media briefing, Baumann indicated a willingness to hunt for more animal health deals. But he also acknowledged that dealmaking has been challenging in the rapidly growing market for veterinary products. That’s because so many mergers are happening as part of more extensive trades, such as the $12.5 billion asset swap in which Sanofi ($SNY) got Boehringer Ingelheim’s consumer health unit in return for its animal health business, Merial. That deal will make BI’s Vetmedica the second-largest animal health company behind Zoetis ($ZTS).

As for BioNTech, its CEO, Ugur Sahin, says Bayer is the right partner to help it bring its mRNA technology to the animal health industry. Bayer’s development expertise, commercial reach and R&D footprint represent “an extraordinary opportunity to address existing and emerging diseases and protect the health of companion and production animals,” he said in the release.

- here’s the press release

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