Jupiter biotech scores $56M to defeat herpes, in a field littered with failure
Scientists have repeatedly stumbled in their quest to develop a herpes vaccine. Jupiter, Florida-based biotech X-Vax Technology thinks it may have the formula — and now has $56 million in the bank to prove it.
Infection with herpes simplex virus (HSV) types 1 and 2 is endemic to the human population. Although most oral and genital herpes infections are asymptomatic, the viruses can also cause severe diseases such as recurrent keratitis — that can cause blindness — as well as encephalitis, and systemic disease in neonates and immunocompromised patients.
Antiviral therapy can be used to mitigate both primary and recurrent infections, but the potential for drug resistance and long-term toxicity pose a threat. Companies developing herpes vaccines, such as Vical and Genocea, have hit the wall due to either modest or controversial therapeutic effects in humans.
X-Vax is touting an approach that kills infected cells. The company’s lead experimental vaccine — ∆gD-2 — is being primed for a Phase I study.
“We believe that ∆gD-2 may be more promising than other previous vaccine candidates because it elicits a different type of immune response against HSV-1 and HSV-2 that is more effective in preclinical models at clearing virus and preventing the establishment of latency,” said the drug’s co-inventor William Jacobs. “In nonclinical models, immunization with ∆gD-2 elicits antibodies that facilitate the killing of infected cells, rapidly clearing the virus and thereby inducing sterilizing immunity.”
Earlier this week, the company said it had raised $56 million in an upsized series A round of financing with participation from strategic and institutional investors, including Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JJDC, Inc. (JJDC); Adjuvant Capital, an impact investment fund supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as an anchor investor; Serum Institute of India; Alexandria Venture Investments; and FF DSF VI, a scout investment vehicle out of Founders Fund.
Social image: 3D render of herpes virus, Shutterstock