SutroVax rais­es $64M with plans to chal­lenge Pfiz­er’s megablock­buster Pre­vnar 13 for the heavy­weight ti­tle in vac­cines

SutroVax CEO Grant Pick­er­ing

When SutroVax was spun out of Sutro about four years ago, the biotech took along a con­ju­ga­tion plat­form that was re­pur­posed for de­vel­op­ing a new brand of vac­cines. And now that they are aim­ing for the clin­ic with a lead pneu­mo­coc­cal vac­cine, SutroVax has reeled in a whop­ping $64 mil­lion raise to get them well in­to hu­man stud­ies for a new vac­cine that will chal­lenge the megablock­buster Pre­vnar 13 for the heavy­weight ti­tle in its field.

The big idea be­hind the con­ju­ga­tion tech at SutroVax is that the biotech be­lieves it can more ef­fec­tive­ly stitch to­geth­er anti­gens to a car­ri­er pro­tein that can ul­ti­mate­ly tar­get a laun­dry list of bac­te­ria while amp­ing up a T cell re­sponse di­rect­ed at the tar­get.

Pre­vnar 13 is a con­ju­gat­ed vac­cine which goes af­ter 13 strains of Strep­to­coc­cus pneu­mo­ni­ae. It al­so earned about $6 bil­lion last year, which is why some up­starts like Affini­vax in Cam­bridge, MA are al­so look­ing at new and dif­fer­ent ways to bind mul­ti­ple poly­sac­cha­rides to pro­teins and do Pre­vnar 13 mul­ti­ple strains bet­ter. (Affini­vax us­es a dif­fer­ent plat­form tech, steer­ing clear of tra­di­tion­al con­ju­ga­tion.)

“If you could have Pre­vnar 24,” says SutroVax CEO Grant Pick­er­ing, “that would be the best case sce­nario. That is what we are look­ing to do.” And SutroVax is us­ing a con­ven­tion­al ap­proach that’s tweaked to great­ly broad­en its ef­fec­tive­ness.

“We took a prag­mat­ic ap­proach when we set out to put this pro­gram to­geth­er,” says Pick­er­ing. “The re­al­i­ty is that Pre­vnar is a phe­nom­e­nal vac­cine. It’s wild­ly ef­fec­tive, but not as broad spec­trum as peo­ple would like it.”

Half of the strains aren’t cov­ered, which is why some pa­tients are giv­en Pre­vnar 13 with Pneu­movax, “an in­fe­ri­or” vac­cine, in Pick­er­ing’s view. In­stead of try­ing to stitch all the anti­gens it needs to a sin­gle car­ri­er pro­tein, though, SutroVax is mak­ing mul­ti­ple vac­cines that can go af­ter all the strains, us­ing the tra­di­tion­al con­ju­ga­tion method but do­ing it in a way that leaves the car­ri­er pro­tein bet­ter equipped to gen­er­ate the T cell re­sponse.

“We can put the poly­sac­cha­ride on the same car­ri­er, in the same site spe­cif­ic lo­ca­tion every time,” he adds. By keep­ing the same pre­cise re­gion of the pro­tein ex­posed to the im­mune sys­tem, they be­lieve they can gen­er­ate a strong im­mune re­sponse while us­ing less of the pro­tein car­ri­er in each of the vac­cines in­volved.

And they’ve been run­ning tests on rab­bits, the pre­ferred an­i­mal mod­el, to prove their point.

Mak­ing 24 vac­cines is no sim­ple task, and SutroVax isn’t plan­ning to jump in­to the clin­ic overnight. The IND is like­ly go­ing to ar­rive in 2019, says Pick­er­ing.

Fra­zier Health­care Part­ners and the brand new biotech fund Piv­otal bioVen­ture Part­ners led the round, join­ing a syn­di­cate that in­clud­ed par­tic­i­pa­tion from all ex­ist­ing in­vestors: Abing­worth, Lon­gi­tude Cap­i­tal, Roche Ven­ture Fund and CTI Life Sci­ences Fund. The ex­ist­ing in­vestors al­so chipped in $4 mil­lion, on top of the $60 mil­lion round, to com­plete their Se­ries A com­mit­ments. And Pick­er­ing says the to­tal raised so far now comes to $88 mil­lion, a sub­stan­tial bet in the vac­cine field.

With the mon­ey, the Bay Area biotech will now about dou­ble its cur­rent staff of 14 — which al­so re­lies on a line­up of con­sul­tants to flesh out the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Aerial view of Genentech's campus in South San Francisco [Credit: Getty]

Genen­tech sub­mits a big plan to ex­pand its South San Fran­cis­co foot­print

The sign is still there, a quaint reminder of whitewashed concrete not 5 miles from Genentech’s sprawling, chrome-and-glass campus: South Francisco The Industrial City. 

The city keeps the old sign, first erected in 1923, as a tourist site and a kind of civic memento to the days it packed meat, milled lumber and burned enough steel to earn the moniker “Smokestack of the Peninsula.” But the real indication of where you are and how much has changed both in San Francisco and in the global economy since a couple researchers and investors rented out an empty warehouse 40 years ago comes in a far smaller blue sign, resembling a Rotary Club post, off the highway: South San Francisco, The Birthplace of Biotech.

Here comes the oral GLP-1 drug for di­a­betes — but No­vo Nordisk is­n't dis­clos­ing Ry­bel­sus price just yet

Novo Nordisk’s priority review voucher on oral semaglutide has paid off. The FDA approval for the GLP-1 drug hit late Friday morning, around six months after the NDA filing.

Rybelsus will be the first GLP-1 pill to enter the type 2 diabetes market — a compelling offering that analysts have pegged as a blockbuster drug with sales estimates ranging from $2 billion to $5 billion.

Ozempic, the once-weekly injectable formulation of semaglutide, brought in around $552 million (DKK 3.75 billion) in the first half of 2019.

As Nas­daq en­rolls the fi­nal batch of 2019 IPOs, how have the num­bers com­pared to past years?

IGM Biosciences’ upsized IPO haul, coming after SpringWorks’ sizable public debut, has revved up some momentum for the last rush of biotech IPOs in 2019.

With 39 new listings on the books and roughly two more months to go before winding down, Nasdaq’s head of healthcare listings Jordan Saxe sees the exchange marking 50 to 60 biopharma IPOs for the year.

“December 15 is usually the last possible day that companies will price,” he said, as companies get ready for business talks at the annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in January.

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Oxitec biologist releases genetically modified mosquitoes in Piracicaba, Brazil in 2016 [credit: Getty Images]

In­trex­on unit push­es back against claims its GM mos­qui­toes are mak­ing dis­ease-friend­ly mu­tants

When the hysteria of Zika transmission sprang into the American zeitgeist a few years ago, UK-based Oxitec was already field-testing its male Aedes aegypti mosquito, crafted to possess a gene engineered to obliterate its progeny long before maturation.

But when a group of independent scientists evaluated the impact of the release of these genetically-modified mosquitoes in a trial conducted by Oxitec in Brazil between 2013 and 2015, they found that some of the offspring had managed to survive — prompting them to speculate what impact the survivors could have on disease transmission and/or insecticide resistance.

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Pur­due threat­ens to walk away from set­tle­ment, asks to pay em­ploy­ees mil­lions in bonus­es

There are two updates on the lawsuit against Purdue Pharma over its role in fueling the opioid epidemic, as the Sackler family threatens to walk away from their pledge to pay out $3 billion if a bankruptcy judge does not stop outstanding state lawsuits against them. At the same time, the company has asked permission to pay millions in bonuses to select employees.

Purdue filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy this week as part of its signed resolution to over 2,000 lawsuits. The deal would see the Sackler family that owns Purdue give $3 billion from their personal wealth and the company turned into a trust committed to curbing and reversing overdoses.

While No­var­tis ban­ish­es Zol­gens­ma scan­dal scars — Bio­gen goes on a Spin­raza 'of­fen­sive'

While Novartis painstakingly works to mop up the stench of the data manipulation scandal associated with its expensive gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) Zolgensma— rival Biogen is attempting to expand the use of its SMA therapy, Spinraza. 

The US drugmaker $BIIB secured US approval for Spinraza for use in the often fatal genetic disease in 2016. The approval covered a broad range of patients with infantile-onset (most likely to develop Type 1) SMA. 

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Eye­ing big ther­a­peu­tic push, Gink­go bags $290M to build a cell pro­gram­ming em­pire

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UP­DAT­ED: Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi to un­veil bill for fed­er­al­ly ne­go­ti­at­ed drug prices

After months of buzz from both sides of the aisle, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will today introduce her plan to allow the federal government to negotiate prices for 250 prescription drugs, setting up a showdown with a pharmaceutical industry working overtime to prevent it.

The need to limit drug prices is a rare point of agreement between President Trump and Democrats, although the president has yet to comment on the proposal and will likely face pressure to back a more conservative option or no bill at all. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is reportedly lobbying his fellow party members on a more modest proposal he negotiated with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in July.

Jeff Kindler's Cen­trex­ion re­news bid to make pub­lic de­but

Jeffrey Kindler’s plan to take his biotech — which is developing a slate of non-opioid painkillers — public, is back on.

The Boston based company, led by former Pfizer $PFE chief Kindler, originally contemplated a $70 million to $80 million IPO last year— but eventually postponed that strategy. On Wednesday, the company revived its bid to make a public debut in a filing with the SEC — although no pricing details were disclosed.