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Infectious Disease Biotech Raises $100M in Venture Funds

Syringe and three vials

(Arek Socha, Pixabay)

7 Apr. 2021. A biotechnology company designing vaccines for viral diseases including Covid-19 is raising $100 million in its second venture funding round. Icosavax Inc. in Seattle is a three year-old business spun-off from the Institute for Protein Design at University of Washington.

Icosavax creates vaccines to protect against infectious diseases from viruses, particularly diseases affecting respiratory functions. The company uses computational techniques to design synthetic antigen proteins from virus-like particles that to the immune system look like invading viruses, but do not cause infections on their own. Mathematical models of these viral particles are needed, says the company, to accurately capture the precise protein configuration in the vaccine’s final assembly. And Icosavax uses engineered genes to express individual protein components that assemble into the designed nanoscale viral particles.

The company’s lead product code-named IVX-121 is a vaccine against respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, that infects lungs and breathing passages. For most people RSV causes symptoms like the common cold for one or two weeks, but for infants and older individuals, RSV can lead to more serious airway inflammation or pneumonia. Icosavax licenses the basic design for the vaccine from National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of National Institutes of Health, that developed an early form of the drug. NIAID showed the precursor vaccine’s safety in an early-stage clinical trial, reported in the journal Science.

Icosavax, with colleagues from Institute for Protein Design, reformulated the early vaccine into nanoscale virus-like particles, with the new form described and tests with lab animals reported in the journal Cell. The company says its virus-like particles are the first use of this technique with RSV, where up to now were used for vaccines against less complex viruses like human papillomavirus and hepatitis B. Icosavax also designed IVX-121 to protect against human metapneumovirus, a severe respiratory disease affecting vulnerable populations including infants, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems.

SARS-CoV-2 vaccine trials expected

“Based on preclinical data,” says Icosavax CEO Adam Simpson in a company statement, “we believe our vaccine candidates could offer significant protection against leading viral causes of pneumonia in older adults where no licensed vaccines currently exist.”

In addition, the company is developing a vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus code-named IVX-411 that targets the virus’s receptor binding domain, licensed from Institute for Protein Design. The vaccine adapts Icosavax’s virus-like particle technology to generate antibodies that bind to multiple sites on the virus, which may make the vaccine less susceptible to resistant mutations. The company reported preclinical results of IVX-411 with lab mice last year in the journal Cell and plans clinical trials of the vaccine later this year.

Icosavax is raising $100 million in its second venture funding round, led by life science venture investor RA Capital Management in Boston. Taking part in the round are current investors Qiming Venture Partners USA, Adams Street Partners, Sanofi Ventures, and ND Capital. Also participating are new investors Janus Henderson Investors, Perceptive Advisors, Viking Global Investors, Cormorant Asset Management, Omega Funds, and Surveyor Capital.

Included in the round is $6.5 million for development of IVX-411, from Open Philanthropy in October 2020. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also awarded $10 million for the vaccine. According to CrunchBase, Icosavax raised $51 million in its first venture round in October 2019.

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