Startups, Venture

Armed with a $47M round, Gates-backed Visterra aims at a PhIIb flu drug study

At the time Visterra made a bid early this year to go public, the timing was off. The boom of 2014 was long gone and the current bumper crop of IPOs had yet to develop. So now they’ve topped up their C round and closed it with $46.7 million in venture cash — enough to steer their lead program through a Phase IIb while getting another therapy through Phase I.

The lead program is for VIS410, designed to fight influenza A with tech out of MIT that centers on epitopes common across all strains of a virus. Targeting that immutable spot on the ever-changing flu virus with tech insights out of the lab of MIT’s Ram Sasisekharan could lead to a durable remedy for large numbers of patients.

Brian JG Pereira

Investigators are getting ready to read out a Phase IIa study later in the year on ambulatory patients, with a IIb coming up that will really put it to the test for hospitalized cases. Their antibody VIS649 is in development for the treatment of IgA nephropathy and has wrapped animal studies for the disease.

“Timing is everything,” Visterra CEO Brian JG Pereira tells me. And when the time is right, they’ll take a look at dusting off their S-1 and taking another shot.

The added time as a private company could help.

Next year Pereira and his team of 45 will have three therapies in the clinic, and if the Phase IIb data that they get from their lead program is dramatic enough, they could see how receptive the FDA is to the idea of an accelerated application.

Either way, Cambridge, MA-based Visterra has a $204 million contract with BARDA that gives them an option on funding the late-stage study.

In the meantime, they have an expanded syndicate funding the work. This new round, which brings the total to $117.5 million, brought back the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, MRL Ventures Fund, Vertex Venture Holdings Ltd, Polaris Partners, Flagship Pioneering, Omega Funds, Cycad Group, and Alexandria Venture Investments. Some new investors — Serum Institute of India, CTI Life Sciences and Allegheny Financial Group — also stepped in.

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