Watch out, Pfizer: Affinivax lands $226M in funding to advance Prevnar 13 rival as well as the rest of its pipeline
Affinivax CEO Steven Brugger hit the clinic a couple years ago with an unconventional take on a pneumococcal vaccine designed to dethrone Pfizer’s Prevnar 13. And now that the candidate’s ready for Phase III, Brugger has reeled in a $226 million mega-round to see it through.
The Series C comes several months after a $120 million raise, with Viking Global Investors, Bain and Ziff Capital Partners participating in both rounds. It’s quite the accomplishment for a company that launched with $4 million in seed funding from the Gates Foundation back in 2014.
Affinivax is spreading the funds across its pipeline, which includes its Astellas-partnered lead program for pneumococcal infection. The candidate, which covers 24 pneumococcal serotypes, is lining up to rival Pfizer’s blockbuster Prevnar 13, which bagged $6 billion in revenue in 2019 — more than any other fully owned Pfizer product.
Affinivax’s jab, dubbed ASP3772, recently completed a Phase II trial in adults 65 to 85 years old and is ready for a Phase III registrational trial, although the company declined to comment on the timeline.
Brugger is after what he calls a new class of vaccines, using the company’s MAPS technology, short for Multiple Antigen Presenting System. It presents polysaccharide and protein antigens to the immune system to kick up both a B cell and T cell response. The platform foregoes traditional conjugate chemistry altogether in favor of a biotin-rhizavidin bond, which Brugger compared to “the strongest Velcro you can imagine.”
“By not using chemical conjugation, we believe the immunogenic epitopes on both the polysaccharides and proteins are not compromised and retain their full immunogenic potential,” Brugger said in an email. “The result is quite distinctively different than conjugate vaccines, where the polysaccharide and the proteins are both recognized by the immune system.”
Affinivax also has an ongoing Phase I trial in toddlers and plans to initiate a Phase II proof-of-concept study in infants.
The Cambridge, MA-based biotech’s preclinical pipeline includes candidates for Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Clostridium difficile, and even Covid-19. According to Brugger, it’s now working on a next-generation pneumo vaccine with broader coverage than ASP3772.
“With the additional capital raised from the Series C, we are in a position to advance these on our own to IND and clinical trials within the next few years,” Brugger said.
Last month, Pfizer got priority review for its new pneumococcal vaccine, 20vPnC, which is designed to protect against different 20 strains of pathogenic pneumococcal bacteria as opposed to Prevnar’s 13. The FDA is set to deliver a decision by June 2021.