Arcturus touts $63M BARDA award for new mRNA influenza vaccine, hoping to prep against future pandemics
A San Diego mRNA biotech is looking to expand its efforts in influenza, and a federal award will bring it closer to that goal.
Arcturus Therapeutics said Wednesday that it won an award from HHS’s BARDA worth $63.2 million, a grant that was awarded as part of the entity’s pandemic influenza efforts. The grant will be divvied out over the next three years to boost Arcturus’ self-amplifying mRNA vaccine platform tech on multiple aspects, such as preclinical research, manufacturing, non-clinical safety studies and regulatory support.
The goal, per an Arcturus statement, is to push a candidate for influenza from preclinical through Phase I clinical studies.
CEO Joseph Payne tells Endpoints News that there’s a big difference between seasonal influenza and pandemic influenza. One is the kind for which someone gets their annual shot, and the other is one that could mutate and become more of a threat.
“This pandemic flu is something that is of significant concern for the United States government, because it could be very lethal — far more lethal than Covid ever was,” Payne added.
The CEO noted that there’s increased energy in the US and around the world to be more proactive on pandemic preparedness, and right now there’s a focus on pandemic flu.
In the meantime, the next immediate step for Arcturus is to start preclinical research.
“We’re going to be working with the United States government to make sure that we’re going after the strains that are of most concern in the pandemic flu space,” Payne said.
Arcturus’ vaccine design, according to Payne, hinges on its ability to be self-amplifying, essentially the ability to express an antigen for a week or two once it enters a cell, instead of one or two days. The CEO noted that it would allow the vaccine dose to be no bigger than five µg, a substantial difference compared to recent mRNA boosters at 30 or 50 µg.
On top of that, the final product that the company hopes to deliver to BARDA would by lyophilized, or freeze-dried, and would allow for potentially multi-year storage in the national strategic stockpile.
The biotech previously had shared results from a “Phase I/II/III study” in late April from its lead candidate, a Covid-19 mRNA vaccine. While it was 55% effective at stopping symptomatic Covid-19 infection and 95% effective at preventing severe disease, the data came out after more than a third of Americans had already gotten their first booster. Investors sent the stock price $ARCT down 15%.
Fast forward to today, where the stock price is up 2% as of Thursday morning.
BARDA, for its part, has been busy in recent months. On top of multiple orders of Bavarian Nordic’s monkeypox vaccine Jynneos, the office gave out $11 million to Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing earlier this week, which had agreed to provide fill and finish services for Bavarian Nordic’s vaccine.