CEO Adam Simpson (Icosavax)

Icosavax keeps up the ex­cite­ment for its VLP 'soc­cer balls,' earn­ing the RA Cap­i­tal stamp of ap­proval in $100M Se­ries B

Rough­ly a year and a half since its last raise, Icosavax scored a fresh goal Wednes­day morn­ing in nab­bing new funds for its soc­cer ball-like VLP vac­cine tech. And the Seat­tle-based com­pa­ny is bring­ing in a high-pro­file set of new in­vestors.

Icosavax un­veiled a $100 mil­lion Se­ries B, backed by Pe­ter Kolchin­sky’s RA Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment and Per­cep­tive Ad­vi­sors, among oth­ers. Kolchin­sky scores a board seat with the raise, as the biotech plans to use its new­found cash to ad­vance a hand­ful of vac­cine pro­grams for SARS-CoV-2 and virus­es that trig­ger pneu­mo­nia.

Neil King

The big idea around Icosavax cen­ters around its virus-like par­ti­cle vac­cine plat­form, de­vel­oped out of the lab of Neil King at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton. King and his team built on years-old re­search of how some vi­ral pro­teins could spon­ta­neous­ly as­sem­ble them­selves, work­ing out a de­sign sys­tem for sim­i­lar par­ti­cles with soft­ware.

His re­search pro­duces an end re­sult of what’s es­sen­tial­ly a par­ti­cle shaped like a soc­cer ball — the “white” parts mak­ing up the struc­ture and the “black” spots rep­re­sent­ing the dis­played anti­gens. It’s the same tech­nol­o­gy King is us­ing to de­vel­op a “su­per-sea­son­al” flu vac­cine de­scribed in a new pa­per pub­lished just a few weeks ago, though Icosavax wasn’t in­volved in that re­search.

Orig­i­nal­ly, Icosavax had been work­ing on a vac­cine for res­pi­ra­to­ry syn­cy­tial virus. The com­pa­ny is still work­ing on that can­di­date, which in­cor­po­rates an anti­gen that has com­plet­ed a Phase I study run by the NIH. Wednes­day’s funds will be used for not on­ly this pro­gram, known as IVX-121, but a new­er can­di­date that aims to tack­le two virus­es at once, CEO Adam Simp­son told End­points News.

One of the break­throughs dis­cov­ered at the NIH dealt with the na­ture of the RSV anti­gen it­self. The virus, un­be­knownst to re­searchers for years, is a shapeshifter — it presents dif­fer­ent­ly af­ter it in­vades cells. His­tor­i­cal­ly, sci­en­tists had gone af­ter the post-fu­sion form of the virus, but that didn’t stop the virus from caus­ing in­fec­tions.

But the NIH man­aged to sta­bi­lize an anti­gen rep­re­sent­ing the pre­fu­sion form of the virus, Simp­son said, which is ul­ti­mate­ly what Icosavax li­censed.

In the 17 or so months fol­low­ing the last round, Icosavax has ad­vanced its RSV pro­gram as in­tend­ed, and is now al­so look­ing to make a dual vac­cine to fight both RSV and hu­man metap­neu­movirus. Both are preva­lent caus­es of pneu­mo­nia from the vi­ral side of things, as op­posed to bet­ter-known pneu­mo­coc­cal bac­te­ria.

“In this case we’ll have two dif­fer­ent ‘soc­cer balls’ in one vial,” Simp­son told End­points. The de­sign could have fea­tured a sin­gle soc­cer ball dis­play­ing both RSV and hM­PV as well.

The plan, Simp­son added, is to start with the RSV vac­cine and then “lay­er” the hM­PV anti­gens in­to the shot as de­vel­op­ment con­tin­ues. IVX-121 is ex­pect­ed to en­ter an­oth­er clin­i­cal tri­al lat­er this year, and based on the da­ta should en­able the bi­va­lent vac­cine stud­ies.

Icosavax’s Covid-19 pro­gram al­so got some love from the in­vestor group, with some of Wednes­day’s funds head­ed to­ward a Phase I tri­al launch for the can­di­date this year. This vac­cine, dubbed IVX-411, has al­ready re­ceived $10 mil­lion in back­ing from the Bill and Melin­da Gates Foun­da­tion. Am­gen is al­so chip­ping in on the man­u­fac­tur­ing side, agree­ing to pro­duce a crit­i­cal com­po­nent of the com­pound and al­low­ing for a more rapid tran­si­tion in­to Phase I.

Simp­son stayed mum on time­lines for da­ta read­outs, not­ing that with the pan­dem­ic still rag­ing en­roll­ment rates can be dif­fi­cult to pre­dict. And de­spite the crossover na­ture of the round, he de­murred about po­ten­tial IPO plans, say­ing “we’re well aware of the mar­ket.”

RA Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment led the round, and Per­cep­tive was joined by oth­er new in­vestors Janus Hen­der­son In­vestors, Viking Glob­al In­vestors, Cor­morant As­set Man­age­ment, Omega Funds, and Sur­vey­or Cap­i­tal. Icosavax’s ex­ist­ing in­vestors al­so par­tic­i­pat­ed, in­clud­ing Qim­ing Ven­ture Part­ners USA, Adams Street Part­ners, Sanofi Ven­tures, and ND Cap­i­tal. A pre­vi­ous­ly an­nounced fund­ing from Open Phil­an­thropy was in­clud­ed in this round.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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FDA hands ac­cel­er­at­ed nod to Seagen, Gen­mab's so­lo ADC in cer­vi­cal can­cer, but com­bo stud­ies look even more promis­ing

Biopharma’s resident antibody-drug conjugate expert Seagen has scored a clutch of oncology approvals in recent years, finding gold in what are known as “third-gen” ADCs. Now, another of their partnered conjugates is ready for prime time.

The FDA on Monday handed an accelerated approval to Seagen and Genmab’s Tivdak (tisotumab vedotin-tftv, or “TV”) in second-line patients with recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer who previously progressed after chemotherapy rather than PD-(L)1 systemic therapy, the companies said in a release.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.

President Biden and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

Chaot­ic ad­comm sees Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech boost­ers re­ject­ed for gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion, but rec­om­mend­ed for old­er and high-risk pop­u­la­tions

With just days before President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 booster rollout is set to go into effect, an FDA advisory committee appeared on the verge of not recommending boosters for anyone in the US before a last-minute change of wording laid the groundwork for older adults to have access to a third dose.

The FDA’s adcomm on Vaccines and Related Biological Products (VRBPAC) roundly rejected Pfizer/BioNTech booster shots for all individuals older than 16 by a 16-2 vote Friday afternoon. Soon after, however, the agency posed committee members a new question limiting booster use to the 65-and-older population and individuals at high risk of disease due to occupational exposure or comorbidities.

Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

Zol­gens­ma patent spat brews be­tween No­var­tis and Re­genxbio as top No­var­tis gene ther­a­py ex­ec de­parts

Regenxbio, a small licensor of gene therapy viral vectors spun out from the University of Pennsylvania, is now finding itself in the middle of some major league patent fights.

In addition to a patent suit with Sarepta Therapeutics from last September, Novartis, is now trying to push its smaller partner out of the way. The Swiss biopharma licensed Regenxbio’s AAV9 vector for its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy therapy Zolgensma.

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Time for round 2: Il­lu­mi­na-backed VC snags $325M for its next fund

Illumina Ventures closed off its second investment fund with a total commitment of $325 million, offering fresh fuel to back a slate of startups that have already included a smorgasbord of companies, covering everything from diagnostics to biotech drug development and genomics.

Fund II brings the total investment under Illumina Ventures’ oversight to $560 million, which has been focused on early-stage companies. And it has a transatlantic portfolio that includes SQZ, Twist and Encoded Therapeutics.

Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

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