Spurred on by Moderna and Pfizer's success, a Belgian biotech has big ambitions for its self-amplifying RNA vaccine play
With the first wave of mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccines providing proof of concept to the entire field, investors are seeing dollar signs for platform plays once considered moonshots. Now, a Belgian biotech is getting in on the craze with a hefty early fundraising haul for its own RNA platform.
Ziphius Vaccines closed a $29.8 million Series A, with a $6.13 million convertible loan to boot to develop its RNA platform, starting with Covid-19 and then moving into other infectious diseases, it said Tuesday.
Started up as a play at RNA therapeutics for cystic fibrosis and Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Ziphius switched gears in 2020 to chase an RNA Covid-19 vaccine. CEO Chris Cardon told Nature that the company was looking to raise about $37 million to advance its 14 preclinical programs.
Ziphius is riding the promise of what is called “self amplifying” RNA vaccines, which would give the RNA payload the tools to replicate itself in human cells. By doing so, the vaccines could significantly lengthen the therapeutic window and potentially create the first one-shot RNA vaccine.
Earlier this year, the company said ZIP-1642, its Covid-19 candidate, showed positive preclinical data that indicated a stronger viral neutralization potential than the traditional mRNA vaccines as well as the ability to quickly respond to variants. The company also highlighted a longer duration of expression and higher potency of protection. Phase I/II clinical trials are expected to start in Q4.
“We are extremely pleased with this validation of our sa-RNA platform and look forward to further developing ZIP-1642 into the clinic. While current SARS-CoV-2 vaccines report 95% efficacy, our technology has the potential to add the remaining 5% and remain highly relevant to any future coronavirus mutations,” Cardon said in a December release.
Amid Covid-19, Ziphius has seen rapid growth, which at one point forced the firm to house lab containers in the parking lot to manage its employee growth. The biotech has openly opined that its platform could have use in a much broader group of infectious diseases, including HIV, malaria, influenza and more.