Venture

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.


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