As reports circulate that the British biotech star Immunocore is in the final leg of pulling together another mega-raise, the executive crew at the TCR company has lined itself up for a $40 million investment from the Gates Foundation to fuel an expansion into infectious disease R&D while tackling an incredibly elusive target.
While Immunocore is known primarily for its work using soluble T cell receptors and combining them with antibody fragments to create new cancer therapies, part of the second wave of new tech coming in behind CAR-T, the foundation is using its cash to point Immunocore to one of the Holy Grails in HIV research — eliminating the reservoir of virus that lies hidden and dormant inside patients’ cells whose disease is kept under wraps by the cocktail therapies that make up a multibillion dollar market. Gates’ investment is also funding a program for tuberculosis.
“We tested for HIV ex vivo,” Immunocore CEO Eliot Forster tells me, “demonstrating “that we did eliminate the dormant virus. That gave us confidence to press on” with the bispecific approach that they use to target specific cells.
“It’s a natural progression from oncology into anti-infectives,” he adds, noting that the challenge on targeting the right antigens on the reservoir cell surfaces is much tougher, but doable. It will also take some time to get into the clinic.
“I don’t think we’ll see anything in patients before the end of the decade.”
Immunocore and its one-time sister company Adaptimmune $ADAP, which recently formalized a major collaboration with GSK, loom large in the UK biotech world. Immunocore burst out with a $320 million round a couple of years ago, which has fueled the growth of the operation to 360 staffers.
“We’re private now and that’s fine for us,” adds Forster, with no plans to float an IPO like Adaptimmune’s anytime in the near future. To stay private, the company has been putting together another whopping round, according to The Times, which will help seal a rep for biotech unicorn status — valued over $1 billion with no revenue.
It will have some all-important data in hand fairly soon, though, with researchers in a pivotal trials on ocular melanoma, with orphan drug status.
Back at ASCO, Immunocore unveiled some proof-of-concept data from a small, single-arm dose escalation study which demonstrated a median progression free survival rate on ocular melanoma of 5.6 months. Investigators said that compared favorably with related median PFS rates they’ve seen ranging from 2.6-2.8 months, which is largely speculative given they’re comparing data from different studies. The 6-month PFS rate hit 57%.
“Just behind that,” says Forster, “there’s a clinical pact with AstraZeneca on cutaneous melanoma, and that is going well.”
Now Immunocore has another big-name ally to provide some global R&D credibility as it looks to emerge as a big biotech inside the Golden Triangle. After a series of biotechs shot at big-name status only to implode in the past, there’s a lot riding on its success.
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