Bain helps push Affinivax to next stage with $120M round, as PhII data loom on a lead effort to do something new in vaccines
Affinivax CEO Steven Brugger has always looked for unconventional ways to go about the business of vaccine R&D. The Gates Foundation put up a lot of the initial seed cash in 2014 and an early alliance with Astellas paid the bills — which now covers a staff of about 70 in Cambridge, MA.
When the pandemic hit, Brugger’s team kept the lab going by reducing and distancing the numbers inside while moving to a 7-day schedule.
“We’re trying to keep the company together socially” as well, adds the CEO, which calls for a virtual town hall every Friday at 4 pm.
About the most conventional thing they’ve done is today’s $120 million mega-round, designed to take them through a make-or-break stage of development over the next several years. But even here they turned to a small, offbeat syndicate of deep-pocket players interested in the longterm success of the company.
Viking Global Investors joined up with Bain and Ziff Capital Partners, adding Bain’s Andrew Hack (ex-Editas) and Steven Altschuler from Ziff to the board.
As the syndicate indicates, the plan is to keep an IPO on the table, considering when it might make sense. The money, though, is enough to stay flexible — for awhile. No one likes to try and go public when funds are low and public investors are tapped to keep the lights on in the lab.
That Astellas alliance involves a big program for pneumococcal infection. Affinivax set out to beat Pfizer’s Prevnar 13 blockbuster with a rival that ups the number of covered pneumococcal serotypes to 24 — which they say should also outstrip anyone in the clinic with another program in the field.
The Phase II data on that are evidently around the corner, in biotech terms. The Phase I set the stage on immunogenicity and safety. In the lab now is a new approach to using a vaccine to reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infections, a preemptive approach to jump ahead of antibiotics, where R&D has cratered even as the need for new products to address drug-resistant bacteria grows higher.
Brugger is mighty proud of Affinivax’s platform tech, dubbed MAPS, for Multiple Antigen Presenting System. It presents polysaccharide and protein antigens to the immune system to kick up both a B cell and T cell response. And they say they can prove it can be calibrated to fight the target.
They now have plenty of money to prove it. And along the way there’s also an early-stage program to see how that could work against Covid-19. The main R&D strategy, though, will remain the same. For small players like Affinivax, discipline is a must.