- Flagship Pioneering, a creator of new biotech companies and founder of COVID-19 vaccine maker Moderna, announced Monday the launch of an infectious disease startup called Apriori Bio.
- Apriori has been formed with a $50 million funding commitment from Flagship and plans to build upon a technology meant to predict what future forms a virus might evolve into and counter them.
- Apriori plans to develop antibody drugs and vaccines in-house as well as form partnerships with companies and governments. The company will initially focus on viruses “of concern” to the World Health Organization, Flagship said in a statement.
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted not only the importance of vaccines and infectious disease drugs, but also their potential limitations.
While vaccines for COVID-19 saved 20 million lives in their first year alone, for instance, newer forms of the coronavirus, like omicron, can more easily elude the protection from infection and mild disease the shots offer. Adapting vaccines quickly enough to keep up with newer variants has proven a difficult feat, as has predicting which versions of the virus might need to be countered next.
Viral variants have also rendered many COVID-19 antibody treatments useless. Some experts have voiced concern that a newer version may slip by Pfizer’s antiviral pill Paxlovid, too.
Those weaknesses have left an opening for startups like Apriori to exploit. Apriori was formed by Flagship in 2020 and, since that time, has been working on a technology it calls Octavia. That technology uses proprietary computing tools and machine learning to try to predict how viruses evolve and use the resulting insights to develop drugs and vaccines to quickly counter them.
Apriori’s initial focus will be on the coronavirus, HIV and influenza before exploring other viral threats. According to its release, the company aims to develop “variant-proof” antibody drugs and vaccines.
The biotech’s work remains early, however. In its statement, the company didn’t say what stage its work is at, or whether it has any programs nearing clinical testing. And other companies, such as Adagio Therapeutics, have made bold promises about developing drugs that can neutralize a wide range of variants and protect against future outbreaks.
Adagio’s drug was ultimately found to be far less effective against omicron, though testing remains ongoing.