Jeffrey Goldberg

Tout­ing CD161 as a test case for sin­gle-cell tech, Long­wood-backed Im­mu­ni­tas bags $58M for next-gen I/O work

Back when Long­wood un­veiled its lat­est im­munother­a­py start­up, Im­mu­ni­tas, the VC’s co-founder Lea Hachi­gian talked at length about how its sin­gle-cell ge­nomics analy­sis plat­form could en­able re­searchers to “ask ques­tions of the im­mune sys­tem we weren’t able to ask be­fore,” un­der­stand hu­man bi­ol­o­gy on a much deep­er lev­el and iden­ti­fy tar­gets that no­body else was work­ing on. They just couldn’t dis­close the pre­cise tar­get for the lead pro­gram.

Kai Wucherpfen­nig

This Feb­ru­ary, Im­mu­ni­tas fi­nal­ly did — pub­lish­ing a pa­per in Cell that ze­roes in on CD161 as a re­cep­tor on T and NK cells that sup­press­es their abil­i­ty to kill glioma cells.

Months lat­er, the start­up is back with $58 mil­lion in fresh cash to steer a CD161-block­ing an­ti­body to­ward the clin­ic while fu­el­ing a slate of oth­er pro­grams be­hind it. The goal, Im­mu­ni­tas CEO Jef­frey Gold­berg told End­points News, is to keep ex­pand­ing the pipeline at a rate of about one pro­gram per year.

Kai Wucherpfen­nig, chair of Dana-Far­ber Can­cer In­sti­tute’s de­part­ment of can­cer im­munol­o­gy and vi­rol­o­gy, co-found­ed Im­mu­ni­tas with Aviv Regev (be­fore Roche’s Genen­tech re­cruit­ed her to run R&D), Dane Wit­trup of MIT and Mass Gen­er­al’s Mario Su­và.

For Wucherpfen­nig, the dis­cov­ery of CD161 was a tes­ta­ment to the key ad­van­tages of the sin­gle-cell plat­form he helped in­vent, which start­ed out an­a­lyz­ing hun­dreds of cells but can now work with hun­dreds of thou­sands at a time, at high res­o­lu­tion. Through iso­lat­ing T cells from pa­tients’ tu­mor sam­ples (sep­a­rate from, say, stro­mal cells, tu­mor cells, and so on), clus­ter­ing them by gene ex­pres­sion and then ex­am­in­ing dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tions, his team es­sen­tial­ly came up with an at­las of im­mune cells in glioma — all based on hu­man sam­ples.

“We’ve been asked mul­ti­ple times, why do oth­er peo­ple not pick it up? And the rea­son ac­tu­al­ly is that the bi­ol­o­gy is very dif­fer­ent be­tween mice and hu­mans,” he said. “Most peo­ple start with mouse mod­els, and then in mice there are ac­tu­al­ly mul­ti­ple genes that en­code CD161 like mol­e­cules. Some of them are in­hibito­ry, some just are ac­ti­vat­ing re­cep­tors, and the bi­ol­o­gy is very con­fus­ing. And in hu­mans it’s ac­tu­al­ly more straight­for­ward. There’s a sin­gle gene that en­codes an in­hibito­ry re­cep­tor, OK. And so most peo­ple have looked at this — I know some peo­ple have looked at this and said, nev­er mind. And they nev­er re­al­ly looked at the hu­man bi­ol­o­gy.”

As Im­mu­ni­tas — now grown to 20-plus staffers — car­ried on the work, once again re­ly­ing on the sin­gle-cell se­quenc­ing and an­a­lyt­ics tech, they found out that the re­cep­tor is not just as­so­ci­at­ed with glioma. CD161 ap­pears to be in play in T and NK cell in­ter­ac­tions with mul­ti­ple can­cer types span­ning sol­id and liq­uid tu­mors, giv­ing the biotech mul­ti­ple op­tions to ex­plore in the first hu­man tri­als, with an IND slat­ed for the first half of next year.

Specif­i­cal­ly, Im­mu­ni­tas’ IMT-009 is de­signed to bind to CD161 on T and NK cells and pre­vent it from in­ter­act­ing with CLEC2D on tu­mor cells, there­by restor­ing the im­mune cells’ can­cer-killing pow­er.

Wucherpfen­nig and Gold­berg fig­ure there are many more im­muno-on­col­o­gy tar­gets out there sim­i­lar­ly lurk­ing in cor­ners tra­di­tion­al dis­cov­ery meth­ods can’t un­cov­er.

The promise has drawn a siz­able syn­di­cate. Agent Cap­i­tal led the round, which fea­tured Med­ical Ex­cel­lence Cap­i­tal, 120 Cap­i­tal, So­las­ta Ven­tures, Mi­rae As­set, Ono Ven­ture In­vest­ment, The Mark Foun­da­tion for Can­cer Re­search, NS In­vest­ment, Bright­Edge (Amer­i­can Can­cer So­ci­ety) and the Leukemia & Lym­phoma So­ci­ety Ther­a­py Ac­cel­er­a­tion Pro­gram. Ex­ist­ing back­ers al­so re­turned: They are Alexan­dria Ven­ture In­vest­ments, Evotec, Leaps by Bay­er, M Ven­tures, No­var­tis Ven­ture Fund and, of course, found­ing in­vestor Long­wood.

Be­yond that, the sci­en­tist al­so sees the up­com­ing work as part of a big­ger ex­per­i­ment to test the un­der­ly­ing plat­form as a com­pre­hen­sive tool to close the loop on trans­la­tion.

“We’re al­so think­ing about how we can use sin­gle cell tech­nolo­gies to ac­tu­al­ly un­der­stand what the drug does in pa­tients — you know, once we start a clin­i­cal tri­al,” he said. “There ob­vi­ous­ly are some lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges with sam­ple pro­cure­ment, et cetera, but it could ac­tu­al­ly be an ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­ni­ty. So we — we use sin­gle cell tech­nolo­gies to dis­cov­er it, we use sin­gle cell tech­nolo­gies to de­fine in­di­ca­tions, and then al­so study mech­a­nism of ac­tion in peo­ple.”

Late Fri­day ap­proval; Trio of biotechs wind down; Stem cell pi­o­neer finds new fron­tier; Biotech icon to re­tire; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

I hope your weekend is off to a nice start, wherever you are reading this email. As for me, I’m trying to catch the tail of the Lunar New Year festivities.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 157,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Pfiz­er lays off em­ploy­ees at Cal­i­for­nia and Con­necti­cut sites

Pfizer has laid off employees at its La Jolla, CA, and Groton, CT sites, according to multiple LinkedIn posts from former employees.

The Big Pharma confirmed to Endpoints News it has let go of some employees, but a spokesperson declined to specify how many workers were impacted and the exact locations affected. Earlier this month, the drug developer had confirmed to Endpoints it was sharpening its focus and doing away with some early research on areas such as rare disease, oncology and gene therapies.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Rodney Rietze, iVexSol CEO

Bris­tol My­ers, Charles Riv­er join Se­ries A fund­ing for iVex­Sol

Massachusetts-based iVexSol has secured funding to the tune of $23.8 million in its latest Series A round. The new investors include Bristol Myers Squibb, manufacturer Charles River Laboratories and Asahi Kasei Medical.

iVexSol is a manufacturer of lentiviral vectors (LVV), used in making gene therapies, and this latest round of fundraising brings its total Series A total over $39 million, which will be used to recruit more employees and bolster its technology.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 157,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Jake Van Naarden, Loxo@Lilly CEO

Lil­ly en­ters ripe BTK field with quick FDA nod in man­tle cell lym­phoma

Eli Lilly has succeeded in its attempt to get the first non-covalent version of Bruton’s tyrosine kinase, or BTK, inhibitors to market, pushing it past rival Merck.

The FDA gave an accelerated nod to Lilly’s daily oral med, to be sold as Jaypirca, for patients with relapsed or refractory mantle cell lymphoma.

The agency’s green light, disclosed by the Indianapolis Big Pharma on Friday afternoon, catapults Lilly into a field dominated by covalent BTK inhibitors, which includes AbbVie and Johnson & Johnson’s Imbruvica, AstraZeneca’s Calquence and BeiGene’s Brukinsa.

Filip Dubovsky, Novavax CMO

No­vavax gets ready to take an­oth­er shot at Covid vac­cine mar­ket with next sea­son plans

While mRNA took center stage at yesterday’s FDA vaccine advisory committee meeting, Novavax announced its plans to deliver an updated protein-based vaccine based on new guidance.

Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) members voted unanimously in favor of “harmonizing” Covid vaccine compositions, meaning all future vaccine recipients would receive a bivalent vaccine, regardless of whether they’ve gotten their primary series.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 157,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Eliot Forster, F-star CEO (Rachel Kiki for Endpoints News)

F-star gets down to the wire with $161M sale to Chi­nese buy­er as na­tion­al se­cu­ri­ty con­cerns linger

With the clock ticking on F-star Therapeutics’ takeover by a Chinese buyer, the companies are still scrambling to remove a hold on the deal from the US government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

F-star and invoX Pharma said they are “actively negotiating” with CFIUS “about the terms of a mitigation agreement to address CFIUS’s concerns regarding potential national security risks posed by the transaction.”

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 157,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

CBER Director Peter Marks (Susan Walsh/AP Images)

FDA ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee votes unan­i­mous­ly in fa­vor of bi­va­lent Covid shots re­plac­ing pri­ma­ry se­ries

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) voted unanimously in favor of “harmonizing” Covid vaccine compositions, meaning all current vaccine recipients would receive a bivalent vaccine, regardless of whether they’ve gotten their primary series.

The vote marks an effort to clear up confusion around varying formulations and dosing schedules for current primary series and booster vaccines, as well as “get closer to the strains that are circulating,” according to committee member Paul Offit, professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

John Rim, Samsung Biologics CEO (Samsung/PR Newswire)

Sam­sung Bi­o­log­ics spells out ex­pan­sion plans in South Ko­rea and US

The CDMO arm of one of South Korea’s largest conglomerates has posted its year-end results and plans for 2023, which include new construction.

Samsung Biologics netted north of KRW 3 trillion ($2.4 billion) in 2022 revenue and an operating profit of KRW 983.6 billion ($799 million), which the company touted on Friday as “record-high earnings.” The revenue boost was 55% compared to 2021.

No­var­tis' ap­proved sick­le cell dis­ease drug fails to beat place­bo in PhI­II

Novartis’ sickle cell drug, approved in 2019 and branded as Adakveo, has failed an ongoing Phase III, according to preliminary results.

The Swiss pharma giant unveiled early data from the ongoing STAND Phase III study on Friday, saying that crizanlizumab showed no statistically significant difference between the drug at two different dose levels compared to placebo in annualized rates of vaso-occlusive crises that lead to a healthcare visit over the first year since being randomized into the trial.