Drug Development

Gary Glick gets $27M to leap back into immuno-oncology R&D with Novartis, Atlas and Abingworth in his corner


Gary Glick didn’t specifically intend to start a new biotech after he left Lycera, where he was the founder and CSO, a little more than a year ago. To hear him tell it, he wasn’t exactly sure what the next step in his career would be. But after starting out talking to some of the partners at Atlas Venture, taking the helm of a new company almost became inevitable.

Gary Glick, courtesy of University of Michigan

Gary Glick, courtesy of University of Michigan

“By the end of the summer (2015), we were talking one day about various ideas,” Glick recalls. He put together some slides, picking up on some of the research that had been put into the innate immune system, a field he was intimately aware of after tackling the adaptive side of the immune system at Lycera.

Atlas, and specifically partner Jean-Francois Formela, had some ideas and connections of their own. The seed money followed in October. And today Glick emerged from stealth mode with a $27 million A round for IFM Therapeutics from Novartis, Atlas and Abingworth, along with a long list of research connections that money can’t buy.

IFM is jumping straight into one of the hottest crossroads in biopharma R&D.

“It’s very clear that checkpoint inhibitors, to frame it in context, are here to stay,” explains Glick. “They’ve made tremendous strides, with treatment options for patients with no other option.” But they are also limited to the number of patients and indications that they target now, still facing hurdles in the tumor microenvironment.

Glick believes he can blaze a trail with small molecules that can take some of those hurdles down, working both as single agents and in combination with checkpoint inhibitors which can facilitate an immune system attack on tumors. There’s also a strategy for developing new drugs for autoimmune diseases.

“There are a number of targets in the innate immune system that have the ability to turn cold tumors hot,” says Glick. “What’s unique is that we have these compounds, when these targets are turned, that do not lead to a cytokine storm that can lead to an adverse event.”

One of the essential keys to making this all happen was bringing in Eicke Latz as a scientific co-founder, adds the CEO. Latz set up the Institute of Innate Immunity at the University of Bonn six years ago. And his insights have been crucial to guiding the fledgling company’s drug work.

This is all familiar territory, though Glick emphasizes that this marks a brand new turn in his scientific work. Now he has the cash needed to start “several” pipeline programs for the company. The company is semi-virtual now, but some lab space will be available later in the year as his 7-member staff go about the business of building the company.

Right now he’s putting the finishing touches to a scientific advisory board. Collaborations are likely to follow in the near future.

As the founder and CSO of Ann Arbor, MI-based Lycera, Glick captured the attention of Celgene with his small molecule approach to immune modulation for oncology. Lycera developed oral RORgamma agonists that promised to help enhance the red-hot cell therapies that are being developed to treat cancer. And just a few months ago, Celgene went back to pick up its option at Lycera.

Jean-Francois Formela of Atlas Ventures

Jean-Francois Formela of Atlas Ventures

Formela and Vincent Miles at Abingworth – which has its own deep connections to the pathways Glick is following – are taking board seats. Formela will serve as chairman.

“While proteins in the innate immune system represent an attractive landscape of therapeutic targets, they have been notoriously difficult to drug,” said Formela in a prepared statement. “During the brief period since its founding, IFM has made excellent progress on several of these targets, reflecting its exceptional team of experienced scientists and executives, possessing expertise in medicinal chemistry, a deep understanding of the relevant biology, and relationships with academic thought leaders in the areas of immunology and immune oncology.”


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