Meissa obtains $30M Series A from Morningside to test synthetic biology approach to 'elusive' RSV vaccines
Morningside Ventures has written a $30 million check to fuel an early-stage exploration of a new kind of respiratory syncytial virus.
Meissa Vaccines has chosen a field in which the most high-profile recent development might be the demise of Gates Foundation-backed NovaVax, after its candidate failed to protect either infants or the elderly from respiratory tract infections caused by RSV. AstraZeneca has had more luck with an antibody approach, but other disappointments abound.
“RSV vaccines have been elusive,” CEO Marty Moore told Endpoints News.
After years of researching childhood infections and vaccines at Emory University, Moore believes he has found a better way to make live-attenuated RSV vaccines — the only type that has been tested in infants since the 1960s due to safety concerns.
“The challenge with generating a live-attenuated RSV vaccine is that the naturally circulating virus doesn’t provide good enough immunity. So, you cannot simply weaken the natural virus and achieve a useful vaccine strain,” he said. “What we have done uniquely is recode the virus genes to attenuate in the host yet provide protective immunity.”
Moore and Roderick Tang — an AstraZeneca/MedImmune vet who came on board as co-founder and CSO — have generated enough Phase I/II clinical trial material using their new method in the past six months, running on $3.4 million in seed funding. The Series A will allow them to kick off human testing and advance other vaccine candidates, which all fall squarely in the respiratory space.
The IND is planned for Q1, with a Phase I readout expected in the first half of 2020. Per their stepwise protocol, Meissa will look to establish safety and immunogenicity in adults before moving onto children and the elderly.
“RSV is the number one case of hospitalization for children in the U.S. and causes high mortality in the elderly,” Moore noted. “Our vaccine could be useful in both.”
Meissa will also beef up its semi-virtual team with the new funding, adding six to 10 full-time employees and about as many consultants. The five current full-timers work out of JLABS in South San Francisco.
Isaac Cheng and Stephanie O’Brien of Morningside — who said the investment aligns with their commitment to social responsibility in global health — will join the company’s board of directors.