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Respiratory Vaccine Maker Raises $3.4M in Seed Funds

lung illustration

(Kai Stachowiak, Pixabay)

27 Mar. 2019. A company developing vaccines that protect against respiratory diseases in vulnerable populations is raising new seed funds to advance its lead product into clinical trials. Meissa Vaccines Inc., a 5 year-old biotechnology enterprise in South San Francisco, California, says it raised $3.4 million from undisclosed individual investors in its second seed funding round.

Meissa Vaccines is a spin-off company from the lab of virologist Martin Moore at Emory University medical school in Atlanta. Moore, a co-founder of Meissa Vaccines and now the company’s CEO, studied the respiratory syncytial virus causing cold-like symptoms in most people, but among more vulnerable populations, such as infants and the elderly, respiratory syncytial virus can have more serious consequences. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus is the most common cause of pneumonia and bronchiolitis, inflammation of the small airways in the lungs, among children in the U.S. under 1 year of age.

Moore and company chief scientist Rodney Tang founded Meissa Vaccines to commercialize Moore’s work showing an engineered form of respiratory syncytial virus could protect against its infections. The company’s technology adapts those techniques, which combine genetic engineering and synthetic biology to produce a live but weakened virus that induces an immune reaction protecting against infections. That technology weakens the virus by sharply reducing the expression of codons, sequences of three DNA molecules that correspond to specific amino acids in the production of proteins.

As a result, the immune system still recognizes the virus as an invader and responds accordingly, but the weakened virus is less likely to result in an infection. In addition to the weakened viruses, the company’s vaccines contain a synthetic fusion protein, with protein elements coded from two different genes, that Meissa says gives it more stability for a longer shelf life.

Meissa Vaccines’ lead product, code-named MV-012-968, incorporates these techniques to prevent against respiratory syncytial viral infections. In 2017, the company received a $1.6 million Small Business Innovation Research grant from National Institutes of Health to advance MV-012-968 through preclinical stages.

The company says it already held one meeting with the Food and Drug Administration in advance of its application for an Investigational New Drug application — in effect, a request to begin clinical trials — for MV-012-968, and began preparing quantities of the vaccine for those trials, given to infants as a nasal spray or drops. Proceeds from the new seed funds are expected to finance further development of the vaccine for clinical trials.

Meissa Vaccines received its first seed funds in August 2017, an investment of an undisclosed amount by FundRx, a health care and life science venture fund. The company also received a separate Small Business Innovation Research grant from NIH in 2017 to develop a vaccine protecting against human rhinoviruses, responsible for the common cold, but can also lead to more serious illnesses. Meissa Vaccines is part of JLabs in South San Francisco, a life science business incubator sponsored by drug maker Johnson & Johnson, which the company joined in 2015.

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Disclosure: The author owns shares in Johnson & Johnson.

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