Gene Wang, Immetas co-founder and CEO (file photo)

Im­metas Ther­a­peu­tics nabs $11M Se­ries A to nar­row their bis­pe­cif­ic work tar­get­ing in­flam­ma­tion in age-re­lat­ed dis­eases

How does a biotech cel­e­brate its two-year an­niver­sary? For Im­metas Ther­a­peu­tics, it’s with an $11 mil­lion Se­ries A round and a game plan to fight age-re­lat­ed dis­ease.

Co-founders Gene Wang and David Sin­clair came to­geth­er years ago around the idea that in­flam­ma­tion is the ul­ti­mate process dri­ving age-re­lat­ed ill­ness­es, in­clud­ing can­cer. The duo launched Im­metas in 2018 and packed the staff with in­dus­try ex­perts. Wang, who says he’s al­ways had an en­tre­pre­neur­ial spir­it, has held lead roles at No­var­tis, GSK, Bris­tol My­ers Squibb and Mer­ck. He’s worked on block­buster drugs like Hu­mi­ra, Gar­dasil, Varu­bi and Zolin­za. And now, he’s chan­nel­ing that spir­it as CEO.

Sin­clair, sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­sor, was named by Time as one of its “50 Most In­flu­en­tial Peo­ple in Health­care,” and di­rec­tor of Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty’s Paul F. Glenn Cen­ter for Bi­ol­o­gy of Ag­ing Re­search. He al­so helped found Sir­tris, the biotech that Glax­o­SmithK­line bought in 2008 for $720 mil­lion in cash, then shut down five years lat­er. Im­metas CSO Jon­ah Rainey’s re­sume in­cludes lead­ing As­traZeneca’s bis­pe­cif­ic team.

The fi­nanc­ing round — from Morn­ing­side Ven­tures — will be used for “en­gi­neer­ing the weapon” against can­cer and os­teoarthri­tis, Wang said.

Age-spe­cif­ic can­cer in­ci­dence rates spike in the 55- to 59-year-old co­hort, with the high­est in­ci­dence rates in 85- to 89-year-olds, he point­ed out in a Zoom in­ter­view. “So ag­ing has a sig­nif­i­cant role in the patho­gen­e­sis of can­cer and pro­gres­sion of can­cer. And that’s what we’re fo­cus­ing on,” he said of the com­pa­ny’s lead pro­gram.

The NJ-based biotech has six bis­pe­cif­ic can­di­dates tar­get­ing “con­trol of in­flam­ma­tion in the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment as a way to over­come the re­sis­tance to im­mune check­point ther­a­py,” Wang said. The can­di­dates are de­signed to block pro-in­flam­ma­to­ry path­ways in the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment, fight­ing cells that pro­mote can­cer growth and sup­press im­mune re­sponse.

“Can­cer im­munother­a­py … specif­i­cal­ly in check­point ther­a­py, rev­o­lu­tion­ized can­cer treat­ment in re­cent years, as you know. But there’s still a large un­met med­ical need and many can­cer types we call cold tu­mors, right, they do not re­spond,” Wang said. “So vast ma­jori­ties of pa­tients with can­cer still do not ben­e­fit with tra­di­tion­al can­cer im­munother­a­py,” he added lat­er.

In os­teoarthri­tis, syn­ovial in­flam­ma­tion leads to car­ti­lage ero­sion, Wang ex­plained. Im­metas is work­ing on an in­tra-ar­tic­u­lar in­jec­tion that could mute macrophage and lym­pho­cyte ac­tiv­i­ty, and down­reg­u­late pro-in­flam­ma­to­ry cy­tokine lev­els.

By the end of the year, re­searchers plan to nar­row the six can­di­dates in pre­clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment for age-re­lat­ed can­cer down to one. The com­pa­ny could sub­mit an IND ap­pli­ca­tion for the win­ner in ear­ly 2022, ac­cord­ing to Wang.

5AM Ven­tures: Fu­el­ing the Next Gen­er­a­tion of In­no­va­tors

By RBC Capital Markets
With Andy Schwab, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at 5AM Ventures

Key Points

Prescription Digital Therapeutics, cell therapy technologies, and in silico medicines will be a vital part of future treatment modalities.
Unlocking the potential of the microbiome could be the missing link to better disease diagnosis.
Growing links between academia, industry, and venture capital are spinning out more innovative biotech companies.
Biotech is now seen by investors as a growth space as well as a safe haven, fuelling the recent IPO boom.

Hal Barron, GSK via YouTube

What does $29B buy you in Big Phar­ma? In Glax­o­SmithK­line’s case, a whole lot of un­com­fort­able ques­tions about the pipeline

Talk about your bad timing.

A little over a week ago, GSK R&D chief Hal Barron marked his third anniversary at the research helm by taking a turn at the virtual podium during JP Morgan to make the case that he and his team had built a valuable late-stage pipeline capable of churning out more than 10 blockbusters in the next 5 years.

And then, just days later, one of the cancer drugs he bet big on as a top prospect — bintrafusp, partnered with Merck KGaA — failed its first pivotal test in non-small cell lung cancer.

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Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

End­points poll: Janet Wood­cock takes the (in­ter­im) helm at the FDA. And a large ma­jor­i­ty of our read­ers want her to stay there

It’s official: Janet Woodcock is now the acting chief of the FDA.

And — according to an Endpoints poll — most industry readers would like her to stay there, although a significant minority is strongly opposed.

To recap: Joe Biden is reportedly choosing between Woodcock and former deputy FDA commissioner Joshua Sharfstein as his nominee for the permanent position. Given their respective track records, the decision is set to determine the agency’s lodestar for years to come.

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What’s next for End­points — and how to sup­port our in­de­pen­dent bio­phar­ma news mis­sion

The firehose of biopharma news is gushing these days.

That’s why broader and deeper is the theme for 2021 at Endpoints. You can expect new coverage outside our core R&D focus, with deeper reporting in some key areas. When John Carroll and I launched Endpoints nearly five years ago, we were wading in waist-high waters. Now we’re a team of 25 full-time staffers (and growing) with plans to cover the flood of biopharma news, Endpoints-style.

Jonathan Weissman (MIT)

Can a new CRISPR tech­nique un­lock the se­crets of how can­cer spreads?

Jonathan Weissman’s team watched the cancer cells spread across the doomed mouse. Engineered with a bioluminescent enzyme, they appeared in scans first as a small navy blue diamond lodged near the heart; a week later, as a triangle splayed across the mouse’s upper body, with streaks of green and two distinct bright red hubs of activity. By day 54, the mouse resembled a lava lamp.

The images would have been familiar to any cancer biologist, but they didn’t actually tell you much about what was going on: why the cancer was metastasizing or which cells were responsible. For that, Weissman’s team had designed a new tool. Inside the original navy blue diamond, they had engineered the microbiological equivalent of an airplane’s black box — a “molecular recorder” that, after the mouse’s death, could allow them to extract the cells and wind back intimate footage of a single cancer’s ascent.

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Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein (AP, Images)

Poll: Should Joshua Sharf­stein or Janet Wood­cock lead the FDA from here?

It’s time for a new FDA commissioner to come on board, a rite of passage for Joe Biden’s administration that should help seal the new president’s rep on seeking out the experts to lead the government over the next 4 years.

As of now, the competition for the top job appears to have narrowed down to 2 people: The longtime CDER chief Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein, the former principal deputy at the FDA under Peggy Hamburg. Both were appointed by Barack Obama.

Fast on Glax­o­SmithK­line's heels, Au­rinia wins OK to steer a sec­ond lu­pus nephri­tis drug straight to the mar­ket

GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta isn’t alone in the small circle of approved lupus nephritis drugs anymore.

Little Aurinia Pharmaceuticals has gotten the green light from the FDA to start marketing its first and only program, voclosporin, under the brand name Lupkynis — something CEO Peter Greenleaf says it’s been ready to do since December.

Regulators went right down to the wire on the decision, keeping the company and the entire salesforce it’s already assembled on its toes.

Charlie Fuchs, Roche and Genentech global head of product development for oncology and hematology (Yale Cancer Center)

Yale can­cer spe­cial­ist Char­lie Fuchs tapped as new glob­al de­vel­op­ment chief for Roche/Genen­tech

Roche and their big sub Genentech have just recruited a top cancer specialist at Yale to head up global product development in oncology and hematology.

I just got word that the pharma giant, which leads one of the most active cancer research operations in the world, recruited Charlie Fuchs, director of the Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief of Smilow Cancer Hospital. He’ll join the global operation March 1 and will be based in South San Francisco, where Genentech is based.

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Neu­vo­gen un­cloaks with broad plan of at­tack for whole-cell can­cer vac­cines, clin­i­cal hopes with­in the year

After about four stealthy years in the development phase, San Diego-based Neuvogen is emerging with a new approach to whole-cell cancer vaccines and nine solid tumor programs bound for the clinic.

Whole-cell tumor vaccines are developed by taking cancer cells from patients and modifying them to make them immunogenic.

“What’s different from what we do, is most people use one cell line. We use six,” CEO Todd Binder said. From there, the company builds out six modifications to eliminate problematic immunosuppressive factors, and add what the executive called three “stimulatory factors” to generate a prime and overcome peripheral tolerance.