Google backs $27M launch round for Holy Grail R&D work on two tar­gets: a can­cer vac­cine and a uni­ver­sal flu jab

Vac­citech isn’t just go­ing af­ter one of the Holy Grails in biotech R&D. It’s tak­ing aim at two of them.

A spin­out from some lead­ing vac­cine ex­perts at Ox­ford’s Jen­ner In­sti­tute, the start­up has been fol­low­ing up on new re­search to go af­ter both a uni­ver­sal flu vac­cine as well as a can­cer vac­cine an­gling for a place in the bright spot­light now fo­cused on im­muno-on­col­o­gy. And it now has a $27 mil­lion round to ad­vance tests in hu­mans.

Tom Evans, CEO

In­fluen­za, of course, can be a no­to­ri­ous­ly dif­fi­cult tar­get for man­u­fac­tur­ers to hit each year, as any of the mil­lions of peo­ple suf­fer­ing from the lat­est flu epi­dem­ic can tell you. But Vac­citech be­lieves its strat­e­gy to con­cen­trate an at­tack on con­stant, com­mon­ly shared pro­teins will help it cre­ate a sin­gle, ef­fec­tive jab for every­one.

Com­ing up right be­hind, Vac­citech is launch­ing a Phase II study to see if its can­cer vac­cine tar­get­ing the com­mon 5T4 anti­gen can — in com­bi­na­tion with a PD-1 check­point in­hibitor — mount a more ef­fec­tive at­tack on prostate can­cer cells. And if it works there, there’s a long line­up of can­cers that it could be used against.

That’s a tall or­der. Can­cer vac­cines us­ing shared anti­gens have been a non-starter in biotech, trig­ger­ing a per­son­al­ized ap­proach that is try­ing to match a per­son­al­ized vac­cine against an in­di­vid­ual’s can­cer cell pro­file. And Vac­citech isn’t the on­ly biotech go­ing af­ter 5T4, with ri­val pro­grams com­ing down the pike from a bis­pe­cif­ic 5T4-CD3 an­ti­body from Biotec­nol and start­up Asana. Ox­ford Bio­Med­ica is al­so still dab­bling with the MVA-5T4 can­cer vac­cine TroVax, which flopped in late-stage test­ing.

Sarah Gilbert

A MERS vac­cine is com­ing up right be­hind Vac­citech’s two lead ef­forts in the clin­ic, and there are al­so HPV and HBV pro­grams in ad­vanced pre­clin­i­cal stages — part of an am­bi­tious pipeline for a start­up like this.

Jen­ner chief Adri­an Hill and Sarah Gilbert led much of the re­search that is now back­ing the biotech.

Google ven­ture arm GV co-led the round with Se­quoia Chi­na and Ox­ford Sci­ences In­no­va­tion — which seed­ed the ven­ture — with help from Nep­tune Ven­tures.

Tal Zaks, Moderna CMO (Moderna via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: NI­AID and Mod­er­na spell out a 'ro­bust' im­mune re­sponse in PhI coro­n­avirus vac­cine test — but big ques­tions re­main to be an­swered

The NIAID and Moderna have spelled out positive Phase I safety and efficacy data for their Covid-19 vaccine mRNA-1273 — highlighting the first full, clear sketch of evidence that back-to-back jabs at the dose selected for Phase III routinely produced a swarm of antibodies to the virus that exceeded levels seen in convalescent patients — typically in multiples indicating a protective response.

Moderna execs say plainly that this first stage of research produced exactly the kind of efficacy they hoped to see in humans, with a manageable safety profile.

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Trans­port Sim­u­la­tion Test­ing for Your Ther­a­py is the Best Way to As­sure FDA Ex­pe­dit­ed Pro­gram Ap­proval

Modality Solutions is an ISO:9001-registered biopharmaceutical cold chain engineering firm with unique transport simulation capabilities that support accelerated regulatory approval for biologics and advanced therapeutic medicinal products (ATMP). Our expertise combines traditional validation engineering approaches with regulatory knowledge into a methodology tailored for the life sciences industry. We provide insight and execution for the challenges faced in your cold chain logistics network.

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Who are the women blaz­ing trails in bio­phar­ma R&D and lead­ing the fight against Covid-19? Nom­i­nate them for End­points' spe­cial re­port

One of the many inequalities the pandemic has laid bare is the gender imbalance in biomedical research. A paper examining Covid-19 research authorship wondered out loud: Where are the women?

It’s a question that echoes beyond our current times. In the biopharma world, not only are women under-represented in R&D roles (particularly at higher levels), their achievements and talents could also be undermined by stereotypes and norms of leadership styles. The problem is even more dire for women of color.

Jeff Albers, Blueprint CEO

Di­ag­nos­tic champ Roche buys its way in­to the RET ti­tle fight with Eli Lil­ly, pay­ing $775M in cash to Blue­print

When Roche spelled out its original $1 billion deal — $45 million of that upfront — with Blueprint to discover targeted therapies against immunokinases, the biotech partner’s RET program was still preclinical. Four years later, pralsetinib is on the cusp of potential approval and the Swiss pharma giant is putting in much more to get in on the commercial game.

Roche gains rights to co-develop and co-commercialize the drug, with sole marketing responsibility for places outside the US and China (where CStone has staked its claim).

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Mene Pangalos, AstraZeneca R&D chief (AstraZeneca via YouTube)

A day af­ter Mod­er­na vac­cine re­sults, ru­mors swirl of pend­ing As­traZeneca da­ta

A day after Moderna and the NIH published much-anticipated data from their Phase I Covid-19 vaccine trial, attention is turning to AstraZeneca which, according to a UK report, is expected to publish its own early data tomorrow.

ITV’s Robert Peston reported that AstraZeneca will publish the Phase I data in The Lancet. 

AstraZeneca and Moderna represent the two most ambitious Covid-19 vaccine efforts, having set the quickest timelines for approval (though they were recently joined in that regard by the Pfizer-BioNTech partnership) and some of the loftiest goals in total doses. Yet there is even less known about AstraZeneca’s vaccine’s effect on humans than there was about Moderna’s before yesterday. Although, in a controversial move, Moderna released some statistics from its Phase I in May, AstraZeneca has yet to say anything about what it saw in its Phase I trial — a move consistent with the scientific convention to withhold data until it can be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Alex Zhavoronkov (Insilico)

'Longevi­ty as a ser­vice': In­sil­i­co spins off AI biotech that trains deep learn­ing on an­ti-ag­ing treat­ments

Since its inception in 2014, Insilico has racked up deal after deal on the promise that artificial intelligence can hasten drug development, touting their work on discovering small molecules. The biotech’s founder, Alex Zhavoronkov, has published several scientific papers quantifying just how impactful this technology can be.

On Tuesday, Zhavoronkov extended his AI expertise into the field of anti-aging.

Ludwig Hantson, Alexion CEO

Why pay $4B for a steady di­et of dis­ap­point­ment? Porges turns thumbs down on Alex­ion’s M&A strat­e­gy, of­fers some point­ers

When Alexion announced recently that it was paying $1.4 billion to bag Portola and its underperforming Factor Xa inhibitor reversal agent, you could hear the head-scratching going on around virtual Wall Street.

Why was Alexion going down the discount lane for new products? And why something like this? Analysts have been urging Alexion to get serious about M&A for years if it was serious about diversifying the company beyond Soliris and its successor drug. But this wasn’t the kind of heavy-impact deal they were looking for.

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Mil­li­pore­Sig­ma to build new $20 mil­lion, 12,000-square-foot lab in Switzer­land

On the heels of opening a new laboratory in Shanghai last week, MilliporeSigma is continuing its construction push.

The Merck KGgA life science subsidiary announced Wednesday its intentions to build a new $20 million lab in Buchs, Switzerland to support its reference materials business. It’s estimated that the new facility will be completed in December 2021 and open in early 2022 and is expected to be 12,000 square feet.

Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO (Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

‘Plan­ning to vac­ci­nate every­one in the US,’ Mod­er­na out­lines ef­forts to sup­ply their Covid-19 vac­cine as man­u­fac­tur­ing ramps up ahead of PhI­II

Twelve days from the planned start of their Phase III pivotal trial, the executive crew at Moderna has set up the manufacturing base needed to begin production of the first 500,000 doses of their Covid-19 vaccine with plans to feed it into a global supply chain. But the initial batches will likely be ready in the US first, where company CEO Stéphane Bancel plans to be able to vaccinate everyone.

“We have started making commercial product at-risk, and will continue to do so every day and every week of the month,” Bancel told analysts during their morning call on the Phase I data just published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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