JLABS resident Meissa Vaccines nabs new seed capital to advance RSV vaccine

San Francisco with Golden Gate bridge in foreground
A JLABS San Francisco resident company, Meissa Vaccines has financial backing from the NIH and venture capital firm FundRx to develop an RSV vaccine.

Vaccine specialists Novavax and Bavarian Nordic are among the companies gunning for a spot in the potential $6 billion RSV vaccine market. Now, add JLABS resident company Meissa Vaccines to the mix, thanks to new funding the startup hopes can help it reach human testing.

The company just secured an undisclosed seed investment from venture capital firm FundRx, adding to a $1.56 million grant from the NIH’s Small Business Innovation Research program it gained last month. The new funding will help Meissa push its respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) candidate, dubbed MV-012-968, into the clinic.

Cofounded by Emory University faculty member Marty Moore, Ph.D., and RSV vaccine expert Roderick Tang, Ph.D., Meissa is working on preclinical candidates for RSV, rhinovirus and human metapneumovirus, according to its online pipeline report. In RSV, the biotech's vaccine tech incorporates synthetic biology and reverse genetics to produce a live attenuated vaccine; Moore obtained exclusive rights to the technology for Meissa in 2015.

RELATED: Novavax cheers topline RSV F vaccine retrial data, but investors aren’t buying it

Meissa has designed its RSV shot for infants who have never been exposed to the virus, Piers Whitehead, Meissa’s CBO, told FiercePharma. If the biotech records positive results in humans, it will also consider expanding the application for other populations, Whitehead said.

Several other RSV candidates are under development: Novavax is working on a recombinant vaccine that targets the fusion protein of the RSV virus, while Bavarian Nordic is using a vector approach based on its MVA-BN platform.

Another project in the field, a monoclonal antibody that uses the passive immunity concept, is in testing by partners Sanofi and MedImmune under a potential €615 million ($726 million) agreement reached in March.

RELATED: Eyeing a $6B market, Bavarian Nordic posts positive phase 2 data for universal RSV vaccine

MedImmune and Sanofi are testing their mAb in a phase 2b trial in preterm infants, planning to start a phase 3 afterward in healthy full-term infants. Novavax is tailoring its version for older adults in a phase 2 retrial after a previous phase 3 failure, and it's testing its candidate as a maternal vaccine in a large-scale phase 3 trial. Bavarian Nordic recently reported positive phase 2 results that showed its shot can elicit strong immune responses in older adults.

JLABS is a startup incubator operated by Johnson & Johnson Innovation.