Woodford who? TCR-focused Immunocore soldiers on with $130M+ B round
Immunocore — once a darling of the now-disgraced Neil Woodford — is shaking off its past by raising more than $130 million in a Series B haul.
The Oxfordshire, UK-based company, which launched in 2015 to advance its T cell receptor (TCR) technology with a mammoth $320 million round, was soon glorified with a valuation of nearly $1 billion (£800m). That unicorn status proved to be its Achilles heel, triggering an exodus of top management in recent years as potential investors balked at the old valuation.
Bahija Jallal, former president of the now-defunct MedImmune unit at AstraZeneca, took over the reins as CEO in early 2019, promising to steady the ship.
“I believe for what we promised to deliver, the funding is adequate for that,” Jallal told Endpoints News.
Immunocore, which counts Genentech, GSK, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as partners, has three compounds being tested in humans (including tebentafusp, which is in a pivotal melanoma study) and plans to shepherd two more into the clinic this year, she said.
The new round comes as the industry’s appetite for TCR therapies is burgeoning. One of the key components of the immune system are T cells, which obliterate aberrant cells by using T cell receptor (TCR) recognition of cell surface markers known as antigens. When a T cell recognizes a tumor antigen via the TCR, it snuffs the malignant cell on which it resides. TCR tech typically involves reengineering T cell receptors so that they can better recognize cancer proteins, sparking an assault on tumors.
Immunocore’s in-house TCR technology has spawned bispecifics designed to overcome the limitations of other immunology agents by combining a TCR to target and recognize cancer, infected or autoimmune cells and an effector function to activate (for cancer and infectious diseases) or suppress (for autoimmune diseases) the immune system.
One of the attributes of the technology is having access to any protein that is processed by the body, including the intracellular proteins that cannot be addressed by monoclonal antibodies, Jallal noted.
“You see the success of the checkpoint inhibitors in cancer, but they’re still addressing only the antigen-specific T cells,” she said. “Our technology can bring any T cells and render them, if you will, killer cells to kill the tumor cells.”
This B round was led by General Atlantic, with participation of old stakeholders Eli Lilly and RTW Investments and new investors CCB International, JDRF T1D Fund, Rock Springs Capital, Terra Magnum Capital Partners and WuXi AppTec’s Corporate Venture Fund. The Telegraph had reported in September that New York-based General Atlantic had committed an initial £60 million to what was shaping up to be a £100 million round.
Jallal would not comment on a timeline, but said an IPO remains one of Immunocore’s options going forward.