Am­gen-part­nered Im­mat­ics bags a $58M round to fund its first clin­i­cal steps on new T-cell tech for can­cer

Back at the be­gin­ning of this year, Am­gen stepped up with a bil­lion-dol­lar smor­gas­bord of mile­stones to en­list Im­mat­ics in a cam­paign to cre­ate some next-gen, T-cell en­gag­ing bis­pecifics for can­cer. And to­day Am­gen came back to the ta­ble to help the biotech put to­geth­er a $58 mil­lion round so it could move its first two in-house drugs through their ini­tial paces in the clin­ic.

Im­mat­ics us­es a plat­form tech dubbed Xpres­i­dent to iden­ti­fy the tar­gets on can­cer cells they want to ze­ro in on. One of their lead­ing pro­grams is for IMA101, ex­pand­ing spe­cif­ic en­doge­nous T cells, which set out in Phase I in Au­gust. Just a few days ago, their close col­lab­o­ra­tors at MD An­der­son launched a Phase I study of IMA201, Im­mat­ics’ TCR can­di­date that reengi­neers T cells to ex­press an ex­oge­nous re­cep­tor — the adop­tive cell ther­a­py ap­proach that has be­come fa­mous in the wake of the first CAR-T ap­proval.

Pe­ter Cham­bré

But as any­one pur­su­ing next-gen tech would tell you, the first-gen CAR-T drugs are lim­it­ed in scope. Im­mat­ics chair­man Pe­ter Cham­bré says that Im­mat­ics is a part of the sec­ond wave of com­pa­nies now look­ing to use new and bet­ter tar­get iden­ti­fi­ca­tion tech with adop­tive ap­proach­es that can make these drugs use­ful, and safe, in treat­ing a wide range of sol­id tu­mors.

The ba­sic ap­proach screens tu­mor can­cer types to “iden­ti­fy those tar­gets ex­clu­sive­ly pre­sent­ed on can­cer cells,” says the chair­man, and then com­par­ing it to nor­mal tis­sue to en­sure they’re us­ing dis­ease spe­cif­ic tar­gets.

“It al­lows us to iden­ti­fy a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of tar­gets on sol­id tu­mors we think of­fers the po­ten­tial of ex­pand­ing adop­tive cel­lu­lar ther­a­pies in­to sol­id tu­mors,” adds Cham­bré.

That’s no easy task. And it’s not cheap.

With the help of dievi­ni Hopp Biotech — the in­vest­ment ve­hi­cle dri­ven by Ger­man bil­lion­aire Di­et­mar Hopp, who has a big ap­petite for biotech bets — Im­mat­ics has built up a staff of 100 in Ger­many, with a sub­sidiary op­er­a­tion in Hous­ton work­ing with part­ners at MD An­der­son un­der Harpreet Singh with 50 more work­ers.

Hopp and Am­gen are both back for this new round, with Welling­ton Part­ners, AT Impf GmbH and oth­ers step­ping in along­side.

With this lat­est round, Cham­bré adds, Im­mat­ics has now raised $230 mil­lion since it was found­ed 17 years ago. Their jour­ney in­clud­ed some mis­steps along the way, and now they have enough cash to see if this ap­proach works in hu­mans.

It’s a big step.

Andre Kalil, AP Images

A 9/11-era Om­a­ha fa­cil­i­ty, an old Ebo­la drug, and the ubiq­ui­tous Dr. Fau­ci: In­side the first US nov­el coro­n­avirus tri­al

The first 11 coronavirus patients who arrived in Omaha last week, airlifted across the globe after two weeks quarantined on a cruise ship, showed only minor symptoms or none at all. And then one of them — or one of the couple of Americans who arrived later — got worse. He developed pneumonia, a life-threatening complication for coronavirus patients.

In a biocontainment room at the University of Nebraska Medical Center on Friday, doctors infused him with an experimental Gilead drug once developed for Ebola, called remdesivir. Or they gave him a placebo. For the first time in the US, neither he nor the doctors knew.

The first US novel coronavirus trial was underway and with it, a mad dash for an answer. Sponsored by the NIH, the study marked a critical point in the epidemic. Since the start of the outbreak, the agency had helped lead a global effort to contain the virus. Now, as it spread worldwide and the CDC issued warnings the US could see a major internal outbreak, they were looking at home.

“We don’t have too much time,” Andre Kalil, the trial’s lead investigator, told Endpoints News. “Everything’s moving really fast.”

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Grow­ing ac­cep­tance of ac­cel­er­at­ed path­ways for nov­el treat­ments: but does reg­u­la­to­ry ap­proval lead to com­mer­cial suc­cess?

By Mwango Kashoki, MD, MPH, Vice President-Technical, and Richard Macaulay, Senior Director, of Parexel Regulatory & Access

In recent years, we’ve seen a significant uptake in the use of regulatory options by companies looking to accelerate the journey of life-saving drugs to market. In 2018, 73% of the novel drugs approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) were designated under one or more expedited development program categories (Fast Track, Breakthrough Therapy, Priority Review, and Accelerated Approval).ᶦ

Af­ter the field left her be­hind, a sci­en­tist-turned-in­vestor gets her first R&D job; Nous­com finds new lead­er­ship for its can­cer vac­cines

Before she boarded the plane, Cristina Ghenoiu spent most school day afternoons at Bucharest’s National Museum of Natural History, studying endangered animals Romanian scientists had brought back from around the country, or the world. The communist government sponsored a wide range of programs for kids so both parents could work. Her sister danced; Ghenoiu fell in love with biology.

And she was good, at least good enough to win several national awards and then, at 15, a spot as Romania’s representative to an international school in Canada that accepted about one person per country.

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Brian Stuglik (file photo)

Turn­ing fo­cus to clin­i­cal work, Ve­rastem ax­es 31 jobs, scales back can­cer drug pro­mo­tion af­ter dis­ap­point­ing sales

Months after taking the helm at Verastem Oncology, Brian Stuglik has a plan to take the biotech in a “new strategic direction” — but not before some layoffs.

Left out of an upbeat press release spelling out its clinical plans, and buried below news of a $100 million private placement in an SEC filing, is a planned restructuring that will claim 31 jobs. Alongside some other cost-saving measures, Verastem expects to cut expenses down by $70 million to $80 million per year.

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Sage con­firms sus­pen­sion of 2 de­pres­sion tri­als af­ter PhI­II flop; Es­pe­ri­on fol­lows up maid­en ap­proval with com­bo OK

→ In the wake of a flop in the crucial Phase III MOUNTAIN study, Sage Therapeutics confirmed in its quarterly update that it’s suspended enrollment in two other pivotal trials for the oral depression drug SAGE-217 (or zuranolone) as it awaits guidance from the FDA. While REDWOOD (measuring relapse) and RAINFOREST (for patients with both major depressive disorder and insomnia) are on hold pending amendments, though, the open-label SHORELINE has completed enrollment. CEO Jeff Jonas remained tight-lipped about what specific tweaks they are considering for the program, reiterating only there have been issues with compliance and room for a higher dose.

Dan O'Day (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: A name emerges out of the Gilead M&A ru­mor mill, and it’s a can­cer biotech

After months of questions and speculation about when and if Gilead will make a major acquisition, a name has emerged.

The California-based drugmaker has approached Forty Seven Inc, a cancer biotech, with a takeover offer, Bloomberg News reports. With Forty Seven’s market cap at $2.3 billion, an acquisition would likely be Gilead’s largest since they acquired Kite Pharma for $11.9 billion in 2017.

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Biogen head of R&D Al Sandrock, Sangamo CEO Sandy Macrae

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen makes an­oth­er bold Alzheimer’s bet, drop­ping $350M up­front to part­ner with genome-edit­ing fo­cused Sang­amo

While the fate of Biogen’s resurrected Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab remains uncertain, the Cambridge, MA-based drugmaker is joining forces with genome editing company Sangamo Therapeutics to develop therapies for neurological conditions.

Sangamo is set to receive a meaty $350 million upfront in cash and stock and is eligible to receive up to $2.37 billion in milestone payments, in addition to royalties. In return, Biogen gets the rights to two Sangamo preclinical compounds: ST-501 (for use in tauopathies including Alzheimer’s disease) and ST-502 (for synucleinopathies including Parkinson’s disease).

“The partnership represents a lower-cost way to expand its work in neurologic disease,” Credit Suisse’s Evan Seigerman said in a note, referring to Biogen.

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Take­da swoops in to buy lit­tle biotech part­ner and its celi­ac drug poised to 'change stan­dard of care'

Having spent three years carefully grooming PvP Biologics and its drug for celiac disease, Takeda is happy enough with the proof-of-concept data to buy it all.

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Olivier Brandicourt (AP Images)

Ex-Sanofi chief Olivi­er Brandi­court, cur­rent Black­stone ad­vi­sor, jumps on Al­ny­lam board

Former Sanofi chief Olivier Brandicourt, who departed his post with an unexpected early retirement last year, has made his move — as most C-suite executives inevitably do — to become a director on the board of a biopharma company.

RNAi player Alnylam is Brandicourt’s destination. Meanwhile, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based drugmaker — which pioneered the first approval in the field — also disclosed the retirement of Alnylam co-founder Dr. Paul Schimmel from its board.