German COVID vaccine developer BioNTech signs research deal with Australia

SYDNEY, Oct 7 (Reuters) - BioNTech SE, the German biotech that developed a widely used COVID-19 vaccine with Pfizer Inc, will set up research and manufacturing centres in Australia based on the same technology, the company and Australian lawmakers said on Friday.

The Nasdaq-listed company and Australia's Victoria state said they signed a partnership to create a centre, which would run clinical research of experimental messenger ribonucleic acid, or mRNA, vaccines and therapies with the aim of attracting experts from around the world.

The partnership would also involve setting up mRNA manufacturing facilities in Melbourne, based on BioNTech's modular design, the company and the state government said.

Foreign-made batches of the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine were central to Australia's initial immunisation programme against COVID-19, but import delays created a political backlash and led to pressure for better mRNA vaccine manufacturing facilities domestically.

MRNA vaccines, which scientists say trick the body into protecting itself against an illness by copying viral proteins, are seen as a safe, speedy alternative to traditional vaccines - especially during a pandemic - since they involve no exposure to the illness.

"The state-of-the-art facility is the missing link in our mRNA ecosystem and it means Victorians can be the first in the world to potentially receive new vaccines and treatments for oncology and infectious diseases," said Victorian Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy Jaala Pulford in a statement.

Science was only effective when applied "outside of the laboratories and reaches people worldwide", BioNTech Chief Executive Officer Ugur Sahin said.

"This partnership is a major step forward to enable access to mRNA technology and promote collaborations in the Asia-Pacific region," he added.

BioNTech's mRNA deal is the second for Australia, which currently has no mRNA manufacturing capability. Victoria previously said it signed a deal for Moderna to build an mRNA manufacturing facility in Monash University.

Financial terms of neither deals were disclosed. (Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)