Next-gen CAR-T player steps on the gas with a $111M boost and a positive glimpse at early data
Though ImmPACT Bio was technically founded in Israel back in 2017, incoming CEO Sumant Ramachandra says the company was reborn last year when it merged with UCLA spinoff Kalthera. Now, with $111 million more to work with, the new chief executive is stepping on the gas.
ImmPACT Bio unveiled a massive Series B round early Thursday morning, along with a C-suite shakeup and a first glimpse at some Phase I data. Seven of eight patients with relapsed or refractory B cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma given the company’s lead candidate — a CD19/CD20 bispecific CAR-T — achieved complete remission after a median follow-up of 12 months, Ramachandra said.
Execs are already plotting a pivotal Phase II launch sometime in 2023. Ramachandra is leading the charge as ImmPACT’s freshly tapped CEO, while former CEO Rick Kendall moves over to the CSO spot. And Sheila Gujrathi — OrbiMed venture advisor and former Gossamer Bio CEO — is the new board chair.
“During my PhD I worked on B cell, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, so this was a bit like coming home,” Ramachandra said.
Before this, he was chief science, technology, and medical officer at Baxter International. Part of what drew him to ImmPACT was the company’s bispecific CAR-T, which showed signs of efficacy early on.
“You’re seeing the persistence of these CAR-T cells, you are seeing a persistence in CR, so for me, this was unusual. But what was even more unusual other than efficacy and durability was the tolerability data was very different than any other therapy out there in the CAR-T space,” Ramachandra said.
So far, the candidate has shown a favorable tolerability profile, with no treatment-emergent neurotoxicity and no cytokine release syndrome cases higher than Grade 1.
The immune system recognizes foreign substances in the body by searching for proteins called antigens on the surface of cells. T cell receptors attach to the foreign antigens, triggering an immune response to destroy the foreign substance. CAR-Ts are designed to help T cells better identify specific cancer antigens, such as CD19 or CD20. But according to Ramachandra, a major cause of relapse is CD19 antigen loss after treatment with CAR-T therapy.
ImmPACT Bio is looking to get around that with a dual-targeted CAR-T that recognizes both CD19 and CD20, two antigens present on B cell lymphoma. This isn’t the first time researchers have considered the use of a dual CAR — but Ramachandra thinks his candidate’s durability and tolerability are where it will stand out.
Right behind it are two preclinical candidates — an activator/inhibitor CAR program and a TGF-β CAR program — that are expected to hit the clinic in 2023 and 2024, though Ramachandra says the company isn’t yet sure which will come first.
ImmPACT’s roots trace back to the FutuRx incubator in Ness Ziona, Israel, and Migal Research Institute professor Gideon Gross, who was set on developing new strategies for targeting solid tumors. The company eventually moved to the US, and this past July merged with Kalthera, a UCLA spinoff founded by Yvonne Chen, Antoni Ribas, Cristina Puig Saus and Jim Johnston.
Including the Series B, ImmPACT has raised around $145 million so far, a majority of which will be used to fund the ongoing clinical trial and to set up a manufacturing facility in West Hills, Los Angeles. Ramachandra also wants to grow the roughly 25-person team to 80 by the end of the year.
VenBio Partners led the round, along with co-leads Foresite Capital and Decheng Capital. Surveyor Capital, OrbiMed, the Novartis Venture Fund, RM Global Partners (RMGP), and Bukwang Pharmaceutical also chipped in.
When asked if a public debut is in the near future, Ramachandra said the team is considering a potential window late this year or early next year.
“If the markets are receptive, that is one avenue,” he said. “If that window is open and we have sufficient data and momentum to go into public space, we will do that.”
What happens if the window isn’t open? “We could potentially go for another private round,” Ramachandra said. “We probably will start having those types of discussions toward the later part of this year.”
Update: ImmPACT’s two preclinical candidates should be ready for the clinic in 2023 and 2024, according to the company, which has raised $145 million so far.