Fueled by Covid prospects, Chinese vaccine developer scores $230M to upscale the whole pipeline
The Covid tides are floating more than US or European boats.
Take Clover Biopharmaceuticals, the Chengdu, China-based developer of a CEPI-funded vaccine that’s just closed $230 million in a Series C. That means the biotech is officially $400 million richer than it was before the pandemic struck — and potentially standing much closer to the commercial market.
“Over the last 12 months, we have grown our headcount from ~175 FTEs in China to now ~500 FTEs across over a dozen countries,” CEO Joshua Liang told Endpoints News in an email.
It’s also taken a vaccine candidate through early human studies, testing SCB-2019 with both GlaxoSmithKline’s and Dynavax’s adjuvants before dropping the collaboration with the pharma giant. The Phase II/III trial is slated to start in the first half of 2021.
All of that puts Clover’s Trimer-Tag technology platform on an accelerated path not unlike mRNA, with a slate of other programs whose prospects now shine brighter with the newfound validation.
For Clover, the next priorities will be on other vaccines — including multivalent ones against SARS-CoV-2 variants — as well as cancer therapies (in fact, the first compound it put in the clinic back in 2018 was an oncology drug).
Their platform, Liang explained, is a new way of making protein-based vaccines by specifically targeting viruses that have “naturally trimeric spike antigens.”
“These viruses utilize these trimeric spikes to bind to receptors on our cells (such as ACE2 for SARS-CoV-2) and gain entry to replicate and infect us,” he wrote. “Thus, in order to induce a neutralizing and protective immune response against the virus, the vaccine antigen should preserve the native trimeric structure of the spike protein. Our research has demonstrated that compared to non-native conformations of the spike protein (such as dimeric spike protein), our S-Trimer induces around 15-fold higher levels of neutralizing antibodies.”
The resulting vaccines can remain stable under standard refrigeration of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius, he added, and store at least two months at room temperature.
With the vaccine supply deficit “readily apparent” even in places where they are being rolled out, Clover reckons there’s plenty of need to be served around the world. The company will offer its jab to the COVAX mechanism for distribution if it’s authorized, Liang said, and they will be ready with capacity to produce over 1 billion doses annually, starting from its existing commercial-scale manufacturing site in Changxing, China.
“The pandemic has affected the entire world, not just the developed world,” he noted.
GL Ventures — a unit of Hillhouse Capital — and Temasek co-led the Series C, with participation from Oceanpine Capital, OrbiMed and existing investor Delos Capital.