Primed for at­tack: Vac­cine tech mak­er gets $11M shot to bat­tle in­fec­tious dis­ease

Tra­di­tion­al an­ti­body-based vac­cines, as a ba­sic prin­ci­ple, pre­vent in­fec­tion. UK-based Emergex’s tech­nol­o­gy doesn’t care if you do con­tract the in­fec­tion — it is en­gi­neered to en­sure you don’t fall sick.

Tom Rademach­er

Found­ed in 2016 by Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don (UCL) pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of mol­e­c­u­lar med­i­cine and se­r­i­al en­tre­pre­neur Tom Rademach­er, the com­pa­ny Emergex on Thurs­day se­cured $11 mil­lion in Se­ries A fund­ing, led by Vick­ers Ven­ture Part­ners.

Emergex is fo­cused on vir­u­lent dis­eases such as dengue, Zi­ka, Ebo­la and even pan­dem­ic flu and its T-cell vac­cine tech­nol­o­gy is de­signed to work by trick­ing the im­mune sys­tem in­to think­ing it’s al­ready had the in­fec­tion and prim­ing it­self for an as­sault against the pathogen.

“Now, if you be­come ex­posed to Ebo­la, you al­ready have got the im­mune sys­tem to lim­it the in­fec­tion,” Rademach­er ex­plained in an in­ter­view with End­points News. “We don’t want to block nat­ur­al im­mu­ni­ty, we want to al­low in­fec­tion but pre­vent peo­ple from get­ting sick — that’s what these things do.”

With ex­ist­ing an­ti­body-based vac­cines, if you get a jab, you will not catch the flu. If you con­tin­ue to get flu jabs every year, you nev­er get the flu as a child, even­tu­al­ly, you will nev­er ac­quire nat­ur­al im­mu­ni­ty to the flu, he said. “If you block that type of nat­ur­al im­mu­ni­ty by giv­ing an­ti­body-based vac­cines, you cause very, very se­ri­ous prob­lems in the long run.”

An­oth­er fun­da­men­tal is­sue with an­ti­body-based vac­cines in­volves RNA virus­es, the group that in­cludes dengue and Ebo­la.

“That’s where the Sanofi peo­ple came up against prob­lems there is that these virus­es have learned to use the an­ti­body as part of their path­o­gen­ic mech­a­nism,” Rademach­er said. “Its ba­si­cal­ly killed off…the whole way peo­ple con­struct vac­cines there­fore against these (virus­es). If you have an an­ti­body com­po­nent, you’ve got prob­lems.”

The com­pa­ny has tak­en an ex­per­i­men­tal ap­proach to its vac­cines. Us­ing hu­man dengue in­fect­ed cells, or Zi­ka in­fect­ed cells — de­pend­ing on the fo­cus — the com­pa­ny works out the vi­ral sig­na­ture on the in­fect­ed cells. Af­ter iso­lat­ing which T cells are there, it us­es a small patch (in­stead of the tra­di­tion­al jab) to re­lay this in­for­ma­tion via pep­tides and amino acids to get the im­mune sys­tem to rec­og­nize these tar­gets.

Emergex’s vac­cine tech­nol­o­gy has no bi­o­log­i­cal com­po­nents (like live at­ten­u­at­ed pathogens) and its patch de­liv­ery mech­a­nism makes it cheap­er to man­u­fac­ture, trans­port and han­dle at room tem­per­a­ture.

The com­pa­ny’s lead ex­per­i­men­tal prod­uct is for dengue — three stud­ies to test the prod­uct in dif­fer­ent re­gions will be kicked off this year,  Rademach­er said, es­ti­mat­ing that he ex­pects at least two read­outs in 2020.

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.

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.

Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

Af­ter sell­ing to Genen­tech, the old Je­cure team is back at an RNA-fo­cused start­up — and more en­thu­si­as­tic than ever

When Genentech swooped in to buy NASH-focused Jecure Therapeutics back in 2018, a handful of the startup’s executives weren’t quite ready to disperse.

It had been just three years since Jecure launched with a preclinical portfolio of NLRP3 inhibitors — and the takeover came sooner than anyone, including CEO Jeff Stafford, had expected. So he got talking with James Veal and Gretchen Bain, two serial entrepreneurs in charge of Jecure’s R&D.

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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When ef­fi­ca­cy is bor­der­line: FDA needs to get more con­sis­tent on close-call drug ap­provals, agency-fund­ed re­search finds

In the exceedingly rare instances in which clinical efficacy is the only barrier to a new drug’s approval, new FDA-funded research from FDA and Stanford found that the agency does not have a consistent standard for defining “substantial evidence” when flexible criteria are used for an approval.

The research comes as the FDA is at a crossroads with its expedited-review pathways. The accelerated approval pathway is under fire as the agency recently signed off on a controversial new Alzheimer’s drug, with little precedent to explain its decision. Meanwhile, top officials like Rick Pazdur have called for a major push to simplify and clarify all of the various expedited pathways, which have grown to be must-haves for sponsors of nearly every newly approved drug.

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Take­da snaps up the Japan­ese rights to an old Shire cast-off; Boehringer In­gel­heim ac­quires Abexxa Bi­o­log­ics

A week before the FDA is set to decide on Mirum Pharmaceuticals’ lead liver disease drug — an old Shire cast-off called maralixibat — Takeda is swooping in to secure the rights in Japan.

Maralixibat’s roots trace back to Lumena, which was snapped up by Shire for $260 million-plus back in 2014. While the candidate had failed mid-stage studies at Shire, Mirum believes better trial design and patient selection will deliver the wins it needs. The drug is currently in development for Alagille syndrome (a condition called ALGS in which bile builds up in the liver), progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis (PFIC, which causes progressive liver disease) and biliary atresia (a blockage in the ducts that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder).

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.

Jay Bradner (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

Div­ing deep­er in­to in­her­it­ed reti­nal dis­or­ders, No­var­tis gob­bles up an­oth­er bite-sized op­to­ge­net­ics biotech

Right about a year ago, a Novartis team led by Jay Bradner and Cynthia Grosskreutz at NIBR swooped in to scoop up a Cambridge, MA-based opthalmology gene therapy company called Vedere. Their focus was on a specific market niche: inherited retinal dystrophies that include a wide range of genetic retinal disorders marked by the loss of photoreceptor cells and progressive vision loss.

But that was just the first deal that whet their appetite.

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