Immunitas Therapeutics raises $39 million to develop unique immunology-focused drug development platform based on single-cell genomic sequencing
Checkpoint inhibitors are successful in treating a few cancer types, such as lung cancer and melanoma, but unfortunately, they do not work in every individual patient. To increase the efficacy, these drugs are generally been thrown into combination studies with new drugs. Immunitas Therapeutics is trying to overcome this hurdle.
According to Lea Hachigian, Ph.D., co-founder, director, and president of Immunitas, “Most current immuno-oncology drugs are not really targeted. They are effective – if you are lucky – in about 15–25% of the patients you are treating. When people try to improve outcomes, they are really starting to rely on combinations instead of thinking about the targets that actually reach those other patients.”
Immunitas is trying to identify those other targets, and to achieve this, the company has raised $39 million in series A funding led by Leaps by Bayer and Novartis Venture Fund, and investors, including Alexandria Venture Investments, M Ventures, Evotec, and other institutional investors. Immunitas is developing a drug development platform that uses single-cell genomic sequencing to sequence various types of cells in the tumor microenvironment to identify new drug targets, and this may help in developing monoclonal antibodies with a single-agent activity that can act alone and do not to rely on combinations. The funding will help Immunitas to proceed with its lead program from preclinical to clinical development. Single-cell genomic sequencing not only has the potential to discover new drug targets but also to pinpoint biomarkers for patient selection. The technology will identify thousands of genes in a tumor, and with computational algorithms, it can select targets against which antibodies have to be developed for a “highly specific patient group”.
Single-cell genomic sequencing has shown huge promise to decode the interactions between immune cells and cancer cells in tumors to advance cancer drug development, and to discover new meaningful targets based on human biology has been challenging. But the newly designed Immunitas platform can reveal novel and important adaptive and innate immune interactions with cancer cells, which may open up new opportunities and possibilities in cancer therapy. Currently, the company is working out of an incubator space with five employees and plans to grow threefold in the next year by setting up a permanent facility.
– Arpitha Shetty
Healthcare - Research Analyst