$15M Grant Awarded to Commercialize UC San Diego-Based Novel Vaccine for Strep Throat

$15M Grant Awarded to Commercialize UC San Diego-Based Novel Vaccine for Strep Throat

SutroVax, Inc., a company commercializing a novel investigational vaccine based on original research by scientists at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) was awarded $15 million from CARB-X, an international non-profit partnership of private, academic and government institutions. The award will support the development of the universal vaccine for Group A Streptococcus (GAS), the bacteria that causes pharyngitis or strep throat. UCSD will collaborate on the development of the vaccine and conduct the initial testing.

The Condition

More than 600 million annual cases of pharyngitis, an infection and inflammation of the pharynx (the membrane-lined cavity at the back of the throat) occur every year. Highly contagious, the condition is prevalent among school-age children. While typically minor in severity, GAS can also represent serious health risks. It can produce severe infections such as sepsis, necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease) and toxic shock syndrome. GAS is also the trigger for post-infectious immune-mediated rheumatic heart disease, which kills more than 300,000 people annually reports SDNews.

The Research

Victor Nizet, MD professor of pediatrics and pharmacy at UC San Diego School of Medicine and Nina van Sorge, PharmD, PhD, a former post-doctoral fellow in Nizet’s lab and now associate professor at Utrecht University Medical Center in the Netherlands, published research that the UC San Diego vaccine is based on.

The History

Nizet and collaborators identified the genes encoding a molecule that famously define GAS. The findings shed new light on how strep bacteria resists the human immune system and provide a new strategy for a vaccine. These patented discoveries from UCSF were licensed to SutroVax, a biotech firm based in Foster City, CA that specializes in novel complex antigen-based vaccines.

A Concern with GAS Vaccines 

Although rare rheumatic fever remains common in some development nations and can lead to disability or death. When developing GAS vaccines, it is important to select bacterial antigens that could inadvertently trigger such an autoimmune reaction in humans.

A Novel way toward Safety

The UCSD team found a way around the damaging autoimmune response triggered by strep. They found a way to circumvent the damaging autoimmune response triggered by strep. The cell’s wall is primarily composed of a complex molecule known as the group A carbohydrate (GAC) which, in turn, is built from repeating units of the bacterial sugar rhamnose and the human-like sugar N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc).

The UCSD Breakthrough

The team discovered GAS genes that encode the machinery for GAC synthesis, and in this way represent an approach that can remove the pathogen’s ability to add GIcNAc sugars on the molecule.


CARB-X is the world’s largest funder of antibacterial development research, with 30 active projects in five counties. Since 2016, it has awarded over $130.5 million. Ab effective vaccine against GAS pharyngitis would mean a large reduction in global antibiotic use, alleviating the selective pressure for antibiotic resistance development.

Lead Research/Investigator

Victor Nizet, MD professor of pediatrics and pharmacy at UC San Diego School

Nina van Sorge, PharmD, PhD

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