SutroVax reels in $64M with plans to take on $7B pneumococcal vaccine market

Armed with $64 million in new venture funding, San Francisco’s SutroVax is setting out to challenge the world’s biggest target in vaccines, Pfizer’s superstar pneumococcal shot Prevnar 13.

SutroVax unveiled its funding round early Tuesday while reporting that its lead program, a broad-spectrum pneumococcal conjugate vaccine candidate, achieved preclinical proof-of-concept in head-to-head studies against marketed shots from pharma giants Pfizer and Merck.

The biotech’s candidate has the potential to protect against all pneumococcal serotypes and represents a “highly valuable program that you could build a company around,” CEO Grant Pickering told FiercePharma,

Protecting against 13 serotypes, Pfizer’s shot—the world’s bestselling vaccine—solves “a little over half” of the pneumococcal disease problem, according to the CEO; his company wants to address the entire problem. Glaxo's Synflorix protects against 10 serotypes while Merck's Pneumovax protects against 23 but isn't suited for infants. SutroVax's candidate could replace current vaccines used in children and adults, according to a release from the biotech.

Together, Pfizer’s Prevnar franchise, GlaxoSmithKline's Synflorix and Merck’s Pneumovax brought in more than $7 billion around the world last year, a sales stream SutroVax wouldn’t mind getting a shot at challenging. The biotech plans to expand in R&D, clinical development and manufacturing while working toward a 2019 IND filing, Pickering said. SutroVax currently has 14 employees, plus numerous consultants, and plans to double in size.

Despite “substantial” partnering interest to date and more anticipated along the way, the company is committed to pressing into the clinic on its own, according to the CEO. But taking on global players in a huge market won't be easy, and Pickering said SutroVax could consider a partnership later on.

SutroVax also plans to conduct research in other undisclosed disease areas. Pickering said the Series B round is intended to take the pneumococcal candidate through phase 2 while supporting other work.

New investors Frazier Healthcare Partners and Pivotal bioVenture Partners contributed to the round, in addition to existing investors Abingworth, Longitude Capital, Roche Venture Fund and CTI Life Sciences Fund.

RELATED: Astellas, Affinivax team up on 'next-gen' pneumococcal vaccine to target Pfizer’s Prevnar

SutroVax’s funding round comes just on the heels of a partnership between Affinivax and Astellas, a pair who are also targeting Prevnar with a “next-gen” pneumococcal shot. That deal features a $10 million upfront payment by Astellas, plus undisclosed development and commercial milestones along the way.