Starna Therapeutics emerges with financing for mRNA vaccine and therapies
Starna Therapeutics has emerged with 150 million Yuan, or about $24 million, in Series A financing to take on two difficult areas in biotech R&D: RSV and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
The Suzhou, China-based biotech secured the funds to move an mRNA vaccine for RSV into the clinic next year and a therapeutic for IPF sometime after that, CEO Rongkuan Frank Hu told Endpoints News. Hu was previously a general manager at RNA tech and services biotech GenePharma and, before that, a postdoc at UT Southwestern Medical Center. His co-founder is Qiang Cheng, a PI at Peking University, he said.
The financing will support preclinical work to secure the biotech’s first IND for the RSV trial, likely to take place in China, Hu said. The company was founded in August 2021 based on the tech from Cheng, the CEO said.
The 34-employee company will also open a site in Shanghai in the coming months, the CEO said. Much of the city has been closed because of Covid-19 in recent weeks.
Starna will eye its next round of financing in 2023 and could ink collaborations with biotechs in the US to license out the US rights to its assets, Hu said. The biotech will look at oncology as an area, as well.
RSV is a hot space among Big Pharma right now, with Pfizer betting $525 million on RSV biotech ReViral after having racked up back-to-back breakthrough therapy nods for its own RSV vaccine. Meanwhile, Sanofi and AstraZeneca touted new data on their attempt earlier this month and GSK ran into three trial pauses in February for its maternal RSV vaccine.
Closer to home, Starna will have to catch up to RSV vaccine rival Nuance Pharma. The Shanghai-based biotech licensed Bavarian Nordic’s poxvirus-based vaccine in March to study the jab in a Phase III study in Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, South Korea and certain Southeast Asian countries.
Meanwhile, in IPF, Starna is entering a difficult R&D landscape. The disease leads to scarring of tissue that supports the lung’s air sacs, impeding a person’s breathing. The drug development industry has yielded only two approved drugs: Roche’s Esbriet and Boehringer Ingelheim’s Ofev, both greenlit in 2014. Roche has lawyered up against generics makers.