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Co.'s samRNA Vaccines Protect Better Against COVID Variants
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The Quick Take

  • Gritstone's vaccine produced neutralizing antibody responses against the WT (pseudovirus neutralizing NT50 titers) comparable to that of Moderna's mRNA vaccine.
  • Data from prior studies suggest that the conserved TCEs Gritstone uses for its vaccine show promise that T-cells alone may offer protection against severe disease which could reduce hospitalizations and deaths.
  • Gritstone is actively developing the WT form of the vaccine in the U.S. and U.K. that contains Wuhan strain Spike protein and TCEs.
  • Vaccines targeted for South Africa contain variant-specific Spike proteins (beta/Omicron) and TCEs.
  • Due to similarities in Spike mutations between the beta and Omicron variants, the firm's beta variant vaccine may prove to be effective against Omicron.
  • BTIG presently has issued a "Buy" rating for the company with a $20/share price target.

In a Jan. 4 research note, BTIG Research Analyst Kaveri Pohlman, Ph.D. advised that key readout data from Gritstone bio Inc.'s (GRTS:NASDAQ) low-dose vaccine demonstrated "robust T-cell responses against non-Spike proteins/T-cell epitopes." Dr. Pohlman commented that these T-cell responses highlight Gritstone bio's value proposition.

For comparison and verification purposes, the analyst stated that results were reassuring as Gritstone's vaccine measured neutralizing antibody responses against the WT (pseudovirus neutralizing NT50 titers) were similar for the samRNA at a reading of 2,370 compared to 2,368 for Moderna Inc.'s (MRNA:NASDAQ) mRNA vaccine and for the delta variant Gritstone's registered 525 versus 580 for MRNA.

The analyst pointed out that the equivalent antibody responses were achieved at a lower total mRNA level (10μg dose, n = 10) than the Moderna offering which suggests that the "sam" technology is effective.

The BTIG report stated that though the impressive CD8+ response observed with Gritstone's vaccine has not yet been fully validated in clinical trials, important United Kingdom epidemiological data collected indicates that "T-cell responses against non-spike proteins might provide better protection against all the variants of coronavirus."

The company is now planning to increase the number of participants in its P1 study to 120 patients. The enrollees will be split into two cohorts that will be given either 10μg or 30μg doses to evaluate the addition of a second samRNA vaccine. The study will also evaluate samRNA's potential as a booster vaccine.

The BTIG report stated that the recent surge in Omicron serves as a signal that additional SARS-CoV-2 variants may follow and that first-generation vaccines that were developed in the fight against the original WT Wuhan strain may be ineffective.

The analyst remarked that in order to move away from vaccines that principally target surface regions with antibody-focused immunity, Gritstone is exploring pathways to broader spectrum vaccines that also generate T-cell responses. As an example, the report from BTIG noted that, "Gritstone's broadly-immunizing beta variant vaccine has shown cross-reactivity against delta and WT strains pre-clinically, while previous delta and WT vaccines don't neutralize beta variant."

BTIG stated that it currently has a "Buy" rating for Gritstone bio Inc. with a price target of $20.00/share. Gritstone bio's shares trade on the Nasdaq Exchange in the United States under the symbol "GRTS" and last closed for trading at $6.73 on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022.



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Disclosures for BTIG LLC, Gritstone bio Inc., Jan. 4, 2022

Analyst Certification: I, Kaveri Pohlman, hereby certify that the views about the companies and securities discussed in this report are accurately expressed and that I have not received and will not receive direct or indirect compensation in exchange for expressing specific recommendations or views in this report.
Regulatory Disclosures: Company Valuation and Risk Disclosures: Gritstone bio (GRTS, Buy, $20 PT). Valuation: We value Gritstone using a discounted cash flow analysis that assumes a 19% discount rate and 1% terminal growth rate. Risks: Risks include expected risk of drug development and the risks associated with genomics-based medicine.
Company–Specific Regulatory Disclosures: BTIG LLC expects to receive or intends to seek compensation for investment banking services in the next 3 months from: Gritstone bio (GRTS).
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