SutroVax lands an­oth­er $100M+ in up­start quest against Pfiz­er’s block­buster Pre­vnar 13

For the last half-decade, in a fa­cil­i­ty just south of South San Fran­cis­co, the spin­off of a small Stan­ford spin­out has been qui­et­ly gun­ning for Pfiz­er and the world’s most lu­cra­tive vac­cine mar­ket. Now, they say they’re ready (al­most).

SutroVax an­nounced a $110 mil­lion Se­ries D fi­nanc­ing that will help take the com­pa­ny and its ri­val to Pfiz­er’s block­buster pneu­mo­coc­cal vac­cine Pre­vnar 13 in­to the clin­ic, al­though not un­til 2021. Hav­ing slow­ly amassed a long list of A-list in­vestors since their J&J-backed 2013 launch, the biotech added RA Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment and Janus Hen­der­son In­vestors this round to go along with all their in­sti­tu­tion­al back­ers.

Pre­vnar 13, first ap­proved in 2011, has be­come a $6 bil­lion-per-year vac­cine and tak­en on in­creased rel­e­vance since the start of the pan­dem­ic, po­ten­tial­ly help­ing guard against the pneu­mo­nia Covid-19 can in­duce.

Grant Pick­er­ing

“Giv­en how mas­sive the pneu­mo­coc­cal mar­ket is, it’s hard to imag­ine any­thing be­ing as at­trac­tive from a rev­enue per­spec­tive,” SutroVax founder and CEO Grant Pick­er­ing told End­points News. “We cer­tain­ly feel like we made the right first choice, but the good news is we think there are some oth­er ap­pli­ca­tions we think will al­so be very im­por­tant.”

The tech­nol­o­gy at the base of the com­pa­ny is the plat­form of Mer­ck-part­nered can­cer biotech Sutro Bio­phar­ma, al­though the lat­est fund­ing round means SutroVax has raised more cash — near­ly $300 mil­lion — in 7 years than its par­ent has in 17 years. Sutro had fig­ured out a way to de­sign and man­u­fac­ture pro­teins with­out us­ing liv­ing cells, as bi­ol­o­gists have for decades. They used to build an­ti­body-drug con­ju­gates and re­cent­ly brought mul­ti­ple in­to the clin­ic. They re­al­ized, though, that it could al­so be im­por­tant for build­ing vac­cines, a field whose po­ten­tial had long been lim­it­ed by how pre­cise­ly you could de­sign a pro­tein.

“It pro­vid­ed an op­por­tu­ni­ty to take ad­van­tage of this plat­form that had al­ready been quote-un-quote ‘in­dus­tri­al­ized,’” Pick­er­ing said. “They had al­ready scaled it up.”

Ear­ly on, they set out on pneu­mo­coc­cal vac­cines. It had three dis­tinct ad­van­tages: The mar­ket was huge; be­cause it in­volved not on­ly build­ing a pro­tein but ty­ing that pro­tein to a sug­ar, it was a poor tar­get for oth­er new vac­cine tech­nolo­gies, such as mR­NA; and re­searchers had long want­ed to add new strains of bac­te­ria to the vac­cine but have been lim­it­ed by con­ven­tion­al ap­proach­es.

Pfiz­er’s pneu­mo­coc­cal vac­cine is a con­ju­gate — a blend of pro­phy­lac­tics against dif­fer­ent strains — that guards against 13 of the 30 pneu­mo­coc­cal bac­te­ria strains that cause dis­ease in hu­mans, Pick­er­ing said. But its suc­cess against those strains has opened a win­dow for the oth­er 17 to prop­a­gate and cause in­fec­tion. They now ac­count for the ma­jor­i­ty of cas­es of pneu­mo­nia.

Pfiz­er and oth­er com­pa­nies are ac­tive­ly try­ing to add new strains to the mix. Pick­er­ing, though, said those com­pa­nies have strug­gled be­cause con­ju­gate vac­cines re­ly on a form of diph­the­ria tox­in to ac­ti­vate the im­mune sys­tem. The more bac­te­ria you try to guard against, the more diph­the­ria you need and, para­dox­i­cal­ly, that diph­the­ria be­gins to ba­si­cal­ly com­pete for im­mune cells and pre­vents the body from build­ing an­ti­bod­ies to the bac­te­ria.

”It’s rob­bing the mem­o­ry cells from be­ing able to be there for the [bac­te­ria pro­teins],” Pick­er­ing said. “It’s called car­ri­er sup­pres­sion.”

Pick­er­ing said SutroVax’s plat­form en­ables them to de­sign pro­teins in a unique way to avoid this prob­lem. They grow E. Coli and then es­sen­tial­ly suck out the cel­lu­lar ma­chin­ery from them. Sep­a­rat­ed from the bac­te­ria, that ma­chin­ery can then be fed with non-na­tive amino acids and in­duced to build pro­teins an E.Coli nev­er could. SutroVax de­signs these pro­teins in such a way that the vac­cine re­quires less diph­the­ria and in pre­clin­i­cal stud­ies, they said, it guard­ed against 24 strains with­out low­er­ing the over­all im­mune re­sponse.

They’ll have a high bar to clear, though. Pfiz­er just hit its mark in a late-stage tri­al of its own suc­ces­sor vac­cine, guard­ing against 19 dif­fer­ent strains out of a goal of 20. Mer­ck is al­so in Phase III on a vac­cine against 15 strains.

Pick­er­ing said their time­lines have yet to be af­fect­ed by Covid-19, al­though they have in­sti­tut­ed shift work in their lab.

Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

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Don Kyle spent more than 20 years working for Purdue Pharma, right through the US opioid epidemic that led to the company’s rise and eventual infamy. But contrary to Purdue’s focus on OxyContin, Kyle was researching non-opioid painkillers — that is, until the company shelved his research.

As the company’s legal troubles mounted, Kyle found an unlikely way to reboot the project. In 2019, he took his work to an Oklahoma State University center that’s slated to receive more than two-thirds of the state’s $272 million settlement with Purdue over claims that the drugmaker’s behavior ignited the epidemic of opioid use and abuse.

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President Joe Biden at the State of the Union address with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

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Bill Haney, Dragonfly CEO (Dave Pedley/Getty Images for SXSW)

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The news follows a major reshuffling at Verily, including several senior departures earlier this year and a round of layoffs.

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Singer Nick Jonas is back at work for Dexcom, this time for its new G7 glucose monitor.

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Richard Francis, newly-appointed Teva CEO (Novartis via Facebook)

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FDA Commissioner Robert Califf on Capitol Hill, Feb. 8, 2023 (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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