Tilt­ing at vac­cines gi­ants, SutroVax fu­els up on a $170M-plus quest to vault past the world's best-sell­ing vac­cine

A lit­tle biotech tilt­ing against gi­ants in the glob­al vac­cines busi­ness has just lined up an $85 mil­lion round to back their clin­i­cal quest aimed at con­quer­ing the pneu­mo­coc­cal con­ju­gate vac­cine busi­ness. And they’ve added crossover in­vestors — as well as a world-fa­mous vac­cines hon­cho — in the round as they con­tin­ue to plot out a risky path for­ward in­to a mega-block­buster mar­ket.

Grant Pick­er­ing

Glax­o­SmithK­line’s ex-vac­cines chief Mon­cef Slaoui is com­ing on board as chair­man of SutroVax as the Fos­ter City, CA-based biotech push­es past the $170 mil­lion mark on fundrais­ing. All that mon­ey, plus every­thing to come, is rid­ing on the be­lief that the Sutro spin­out has re­li­able tech that can whip up a first-in-class prod­uct that con­ju­gates a big clus­ter of anti­gens to site-spe­cif­ic lo­ca­tions on a pro­tein car­ri­er with­out hob­bling T-cell helpers, build­ing a bet­ter vac­cine the gi­ants can’t touch.

CEO Grant Pick­er­ing tells me much of the new mon­ey will be used to line up the man­u­fac­tur­ing work that will be need­ed as they be­gin to test their vac­cine for pneu­mo­coc­cal pneu­mo­nia in hu­mans. 

Right now, that mar­ket is dom­i­nat­ed by Pfiz­er’s $6 bil­lion a year prod­uct Pre­vnar 13, which upped the ante on pneu­mo­coc­cus strains that can be guard­ed against. Pre­vnar 13 is the world’s best-sell­ing vac­cine. Mer­ck just start­ed a late-stage pro­gram for V114 that hopes to shove Pfiz­er aside with a new prod­uct that takes that to 15. And SutroVax says it can go past the 20 mark us­ing tech for a con­ju­gate vac­cine that no oth­er com­pa­ny can ri­val.

“Hav­ing just a few more strains re­al­ly is a sig­nif­i­cant com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage,” says Pick­er­ing, who is hop­ing to vault the gi­ants with a prod­uct that can carve away bil­lions — and keep it. 

That’s not go­ing to come cheap — and cer­tain­ly won’t be easy. Pick­er­ing al­lows that the syn­di­cate was brought to­geth­er with an eye to keep­ing their op­tions open on an IPO at some point. The CEO al­so isn’t ready to lay out his de­vel­op­ment time­lines, ex­act num­ber of strains they’re plan­ning on or even when the first hu­man will be test­ed.

Why flag your en­tire plan in a com­pet­i­tive field like this?

New in­vestor TPG Growth, Medicxi and Fore­site Cap­i­tal all came on board with this round. That adds Medicxi’s Francesco de Ru­ber­tis to the group, while all of SutroVax’s ex­ist­ing in­sti­tu­tion­al in­vestors, in­clud­ing Abing­worth, Lon­gi­tude Cap­i­tal, Fra­zier Health Care Part­ners, Piv­otal bioVen­ture Part­ners, Roche Ven­ture Fund, and CTI Life Sci­ences Fund came back.

Medicxi in turn is backed by a trio of gi­ants — J&J, GSK and No­var­tis — and of­fers a “nice lens” in­to their think­ing on this pro­gram, which dom­i­nates the biotech’s time. Slaoui, who of­fered a thumbs up for the com­pa­ny’s “huge po­ten­tial,” will help with the glob­al per­spec­tive as well.

George Scangos (L) and Marianne De Backer

Pi­o­neer­ing biotech icon George Scan­gos hands in his re­tire­ment pa­pers — and this time it’s for re­al

George Scangos, one of the all-time great biotech CEOs, says the time has come to turn over the reins one last time.

The 74-year-old biotech legend spent close to three decades in a CEO post. The first was at Exelixis — which is still heavily focused on a drug Scangos advanced in the clinic. The second “retirement” was at Biogen, where he and his team were credited with a big turnaround with the now fading MS blockbuster Tecfidera. And the third comes at Vir, where he traded in his Big Biotech credentials for a marquee founder’s role back on the West Coast, hammering out a Covid-19 alliance with Hal Barron — then R&D chief at GSK — and breaking new ground on infectious diseases with some high-powered venture players.

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Jeanne Loring, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine (Credit: Jamie Scott Lytle)

A stem cell pi­o­neer sent an ex­per­i­ment in­to space. Pa­tients are the next fron­tier

Last July, Jeanne Loring stood on a dirt road surrounded by Florida swampland and watched as a nearby SpaceX rocket blasted into the sky. The payload included a very personal belonging: cell clusters mimicking parts of her brain.

For more than two decades, Loring has been at the forefront of a stem cell field that always seems on the brink of becoming the next thing in medicine, but has been slow to lift off.

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FDA re­ports ini­tial 'no sig­nal' for stroke risk with Pfiz­er boost­ers, launch­es con­comi­tant flu shot study

The FDA hasn’t detected any potential safety signals, including for stroke, in people aged 65 years and older who have received Pfizer’s bivalent Covid booster, one senior official told members of the agency’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) on Thursday.

The update comes as the FDA and CDC investigate a “preliminary signal” that may indicate an increased risk of ischemic stroke in older Americans who received Pfizer’s updated shot.

FDA cuts off use for As­traZeneca’s Covid-19 ther­a­py Evusheld

The FDA has stopped use of another drug as a result of the new coronavirus variants. On Thursday, the agency announced that AstraZeneca’s antibody combo Evusheld, which was an important prevention option for many immunocompromised people and others, is no longer authorized.

The FDA said it made its decision based on the fact that Evusheld works on fewer than 10% of circulating variants.

Evusheld was initially given emergency authorization at the end of 2021. However, as Omicron emerged, so did studies that showed Evusheld might not work against the dominant Omicron strain. In October, the FDA warned healthcare providers that Evusheld was useless against the Omicron subvariant BA.4.6. It followed that up with another announcement earlier this month that it did not think Evusheld would work against the latest Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5.

Ali Madani, Profluent founder and CEO

Proflu­ent de­buts to de­sign pro­teins with ma­chine learn­ing in bid to move past 'AI sprin­kled on top'

While OpenAI’s Microsoft-allied ChatGPT takes the world by storm, a fledgling startup in Berkeley, CA is debuting to take a similar language-learning model approach, but with the goal of designing new proteins.

Profluent, founded by a former Salesforce AI research leader, has secured $9 million to kick-start its work, with proceeds going toward building out an integrated wet lab and recruiting machine learning scientists and biologists. Insight Partners led the seed round. The investor base also includes Air Street Capital, AIX Ventures and Phoenix Venture Partners.

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In­vestor 'misalign­men­t' leads to tR­NA biotech's shut­ter­ing

A small biotech looking to carve a lane in the tRNA field has folded, an investor and a co-founder confirmed to Endpoints News.

Similar to Flagship’s Alltrna and other upstarts like Takeda-backed hC Bioscience, the now-shuttered Theonys was attempting to go after transfer RNA, seen as a potential Swiss Army knife in the broader RNA therapeutics space. The idea is that one tRNA drug could be used across a galaxy of disorders and diseases.

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#JPM23: What's re­al­ly dri­ving the cost of health­care and drugs in 2023?

Executive Editor Drew Armstrong spoke with PhRMA CEO Steve Ubl, EmsanaRx CEO Greg Baker and ICER President Steve Pearson about how the debate over drug costs has changed (or not) in the last decade, the shifting payer landscape and why there seems to be so little movement on drug rebates. This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Drew Armstrong:

So first of all, thank you to everybody for being here and for our panel for being here. Incredibly excited to have this discussion on the cost of healthcare and drugs and what’s driving that. We’re here with Steve Ubl, the head of PhRMA. Thank you so much. Steve Pearson from ICER, and Greg Baker from EmsanaRx. I want to start this conversation with a little bit of a personal reminiscence. So about almost 10 years exactly. I was a reporter back in my previous job and I was covering drug pricing and Gilead had just launched their hepatitis C drug and I was having a conversation with another Steve over at Express Scripts and he made some comments essentially about how they intended to launch a price war over hepatitis C therapies.

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Peter Joyce, Grey Wolf Therapeutics co-founder and CEO

Grey Wolf reels in $49M to en­ter the clin­ic for new im­munother­a­py tar­get

When he finds the time to go fly fishing, Peter Joyce says gray wulffs, or mayfly mimics, are his good luck charm — he always catches a fish when he uses them. Joyce has now brought in $49 million in a Series B round for his biotech company Grey Wolf Therapeutics.

The Oxford, UK cancer biotech plans to use the funds to bring its first asset into human trials in the coming month or two, according to Joyce. Pfizer Ventures and Earlybird Venture Capital co-led the round, which the startup disclosed Thursday.

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Pa­tient death spurs tri­al halt for Ma­gen­ta Ther­a­peu­tics

Magenta Therapeutics is pausing an early-stage clinical trial after a patient died. The death was deemed to be possibly related to its drug, MGTA-117.

The biotech said the pause of the Phase I/II trial is voluntary and gives it time to review all available data before deciding what to do next. It’s also reported the known information to the FDA.

The dose-escalation trial was designed to test whether MGTA-117, an antibody-drug conjugate, could serve as a more targeted alternative to high-intensity chemotherapy as a conditioning agent for cancer patients who are set to receive a stem cell transplant. It recruited patients with relapsed/refractory acute myeloid leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome.