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.

A small, ob­scure biotech just won big with their IPO. In this mar­ket. Are you kid­ding me?

How could a small, largely unknown biotech that emerged from stealth mode just months ago with early-stage cancer programs jump onto Wall Street in the middle of a Force 5 financial hurricane and sail through with a $165 million IPO?

And what does that mean for the rest of the industry waiting to see just how much damage global lockdowns will wreak on clinical development?

The biotech is a company called Zentalis. The crew there nabbed an $85 million crossover round late last year — notably waiting 5 years before waving the numbers around to attract attention, according to my read of a FierceBiotech story. Perceptive joined in, but the syndicate was not in general the kind of marquee affair that gets tongues wagging.

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Bob Nelsen at the Milken Institute Global Conference on April 29, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

ARCH chief Bob Nelsen has $1.5B to prove 2 sim­ple points: ‘We’re in the most in­no­v­a­tive time ever’ and in­vestors are stay­ing

ARCH co-founder and managing director Bob Nelsen has a well known yen for the home run swing, betting big on potentially transformative meds and tech and the biotech teams he helps bring together. He thrives and bleeds on the cutting edge. And now Nelsen and the ARCH group have debuted 2 big funds to prove that this is the time for the best of biotech to shine — deadly pandemic be damned.

Two new funds, ARCH Venture Fund X and ARCH Venture Fund X Overage, gathered a combined $1.46 billion. And that’s a record. ARCH Venture Fund IX and ARCH Venture Fund IX Overage closed in 2016 with a combined $1.1 billion. ARCH Venture Fund VIII and ARCH Venture Fund VIII Overage closed in 2014 with a combined $560 million.

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In­vest­ing in the time of coro­n­avirus: the good, the bad and the hope­ful, as biotech VC firms close funds worth $3B

Apart from disrupting biopharma R&D and regulatory timelines, the coronavirus pandemic has inevitably ravaged financial markets and eroded investor risk appetite. Investing in the time of coronavirus feels reckless, but if biotech venture funds are any indication, the time is ripe.

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GSK vac­cine chief heads for AIDS vac­cine ini­tia­tive; Pfiz­er en­lists Sue Desmond-Hell­mann to its board of di­rec­tors

→ Rip Ballou, who until very recently led vaccine research and development at GlaxoSmithKline, is joining the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) to lead its USAID-funded ADVANCE program. The program uses a network of researchers and institutions in Africa to help develop a vaccine for HIV. Ballou had worked at GSK since 2010 and has led global vaccine R&D since 2015. Prior to that he held posts at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a different post at GSK, Medimmune, and Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.  IAVI is led by Mark Feinberg, the former CSO of Merck Vaccines. 

Ahead of US IPO, Leg­end Biotech adds $150M, top-tier in­vestors to back CAR-T pipeline

Last month Nanjing Legend Biotech revealed that it sees, and was quietly planning for, a future as a public company in the US, separate but still tied to its former parent, Chinese CRO GenScript. It’s evidently a vision that enticed investors, drawing marquee names for a pre-IPO round.

The Series A fetched a whopping $150.5 million from Hudson Bay Capital Management, Lilly Asia Ventures, Vivo Capital, RA Capital Management and JJDC, the venture arm of J&J. The pharma giant has helped fund Legend’s CAR-T work with the $350 million upfront payment it handed over to partner on the lead BCMA program.

Covid-19 roundup: Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel be­comes a bil­lion­aire; No­var­tis, In­cyte pitch Jakafi PhI­II to tack­le se­vere cas­es

You can now add Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel to the list of biotech billionaires.

Since investors began to understand the full scope of the coronavirus outbreak in late February, cash has flushed out of much of the stock market and into the handful of companies leading the fight for drugs and vaccines. That’s meant hundreds of millions for Moderna, the Flagship-backed company that emerged early as the world’s first best hope for a Covid-19 vaccine.

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J&J gives pi­o­neer­ing stem cell biotech its first Big Phar­ma deal, part­ner­ing on iP­SC CAR-T and CAR-NK

Late last summer, one of the earliest stem cell therapy companies got two government decisions in the span of three weeks: The USPTO granted them a patent for iPSC-derived CAR-T cells, and then the FDA cleared them for their first-in-human CAR-NK trial.

Yesterday, the two technologies landed them an up-to $3.1 billion deal.

Fate Therapeutics and J&J announced a global collaboration that will pay Fate $100 million upfront and a trove of potential milestones to develop multiple CAR-T and CAR-NK therapies. It’s the first Big Pharma partnership Fate has announced in their 13-year existence and the largest, although at least one longtime follower thought they could have landed more.

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FDA re­ports short­age of se­da­tion drug used for putting Covid-19 pa­tients on ven­ti­la­tors

The FDA on Thursday updated its list of drugs in shortage to include the sedation drug midazolam, which along with other sedatives is being used to treat COVID-19 patients requiring mechanical ventilation.

The updated listings for five manufacturers note an increased demand for midazolam and may just be the beginning of what’s to come for other sedation drugs too.

Michael Ganio, senior director of pharmacy practice and quality at the American Society for Health-System Pharmacists, told Focus via email: “We have multiple reports of increases in purchases and utilization of sedatives like midazolam, fentanyl, and propofol to treat COVID-19 patients who require mechanical ventilation.”

Drug dis­cov­ery in the age of coro­n­avirus

Developing new drugs is incredibly hard. That’s why, despite superhuman efforts from the industry, we’re still looking at 12-18 months minimum before we can realistically hope for a vaccine for Covid-19, and probably months before there’s a proven viable drug treatment.

But our increasing ability to begin to industrialize the drug discovery and development process through an engineering approach means that we have more hope for speeding up this process than ever before — and not just to defeat coronavirus, but to benefit the development of all new medicines in the future.