Affinivax nets another $2.5M from Gates Foundation to advance Prevnar competitor

Affinivax CEO Steve Brugger

Cambridge, MA-based Affinivax launched in November 2014 with a $4 million Gates Foundation investment and plans to develop a pneumococcal vaccine that it believes could go beyond Prevnar, the best-selling vaccine in the world. Now, the biotech is announcing $2.5 million in follow-on funding from the Gates Foundation, which it will use to advance its lead candidate, CEO Steve Brugger told FierceVaccines.

Pfizer's blockbuster Prevnar 13 is a traditional conjugate vaccine that uses proteins to carry polysaccharides that then provoke an immune response against 13 serotypes of pneumococcus.

"The challenge is that there are about 97 serotypes for pneumococcus," Brugger said. "There are more than the 13 that matter, in the U.S. and globally."

Affinivax's candidate is based on its Multiple Antigen Presenting System (MAPS), in which the protein carriers themselves also induce an immune response. In addition to this boost in protection, Affinivax's tech allows it to put more polysaccharides into the vaccine, allowing not only stronger protection, but also broader protection, the company said. Manufacturing efficiencies associated with MAPS result in lower manufacturing costs too, Brugger said.

Brugger was tight-lipped about the status of Affinivax's pneumococcal candidate, not disclosing the milestones met to merit the new financing and declining to disclose a timeline for the vaccine's development. But he did note that the company had chosen a development candidate to move forward with and will use the Gates Foundation funding to do so.

While Prevnar has penetrated the world market, it is still too expensive for some countries. Humanitarian organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has criticized Pfizer ($PFE) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) for pricing their pneumococcal vaccines too highly. The Gates Foundation aims to get affordable vaccines into the developing world, marking a natural target market for Affinivax.

But Brugger said Affinivax plans to bring its vaccine directly into developed markets, too.

"While the [Gates] Foundation has always been looking for a more cost-effective Prevnar 13, we believe we won't just make a cheaper [vaccine] but one with better coverage," he said.

And while the biotech has had success with the alternative financing route and has yet to go to the venture capital community, Brugger isn't writing traditional financing off.

"It is always an option," he said, adding that it can be advantageous to bring in venture capitalists with "a longer-term horizon and have a commitment to infectious diseases."

In the meantime, the company is enjoying its partnership with Gates and an early pharma partnership with Astellas. Affinivax secured funding from Astellas' ClearPath "about four to 5 months" ago to develop a MAPS vaccine for nosocomial, or hospital-acquired, infections. It did not disclose the funding at the time.

- here's the release

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