Cancer immunotherapy developer Immunocore secures $320 million in private financing
UK-based cancer immunotherapy developer Immunocore raised $320 million, with Eli Lilly among the investors who backed the financing, in the largest private fundraising by a European biotechnology company. Eliot Forster, chief executive of Immunocore, said the proceeds would accelerate development of the company's T-cell receptor (TCR)-based therapies, with particular focus on its most advanced drug candidate, IMCgp100, which yielded positive results in early-stage trials involving about 60 patients with advanced metastatic cutaneous and ocular melanoma.
"We believe this is another endorsement of our technology, our novel class of TCR-based biologic therapies, [and] of our mission to build a world-leading biotechnology company," remarked Forster. He suggested that Immunocore's bispecific biologics, called ImmTACs, involved a unique technique that differentiates them from other forms of immunotherapy. According to the company, ImmTACs "have the potential to treat a broad range of solid tumours, either as monotherapies or in combination with other therapies to create best-in-class treatment regimes."
Immunocore indicated that it is exploring "all options" for IMCgp100 as part of its discussions with US and European regulators, including pursuing orphan drug status and a breakthrough therapy designation. Forster indicated that an announcement regarding the therapy could be made in the fourth quarter, adding that mid-stage testing of IMCgp100 for melanoma could begin early in 2016.
Adrian Howd, CEO of the life sciences investment firm Malin, which invested $80 million in Immunocore as part of the financing round, noted that cancer immunotherapy has produced "some of the most significant improvements in survival rates than we've [ever] seen." Howd suggested that besides cancer, Immunocore's drug platform could also potentially be applied to immune disorders and infectious diseases, adding that while "the lead asset is potentially very exciting…behind that they have a multitude of new targets that could be as exciting, if not more [so]."
Last month, Immunocore unveiled a collaboration to assess the efficacy of IMCgp100 together with Eli Lilly's galunisertib and merestinib in the treatment of melanoma, following a similar pact with AstraZeneca's MedImmune unit to develop IMCgp100 in combination with the experimental checkpoint inhibitors MEDI4736, which targets PD-L1, and/or tremelimumab, which targets CTLA-4, for metastatic melanoma. Immunocore also has partnerships with GlaxoSmithKline and Roche, although Forster indicated the fundraising ensured the company would be able to continue developing its most promising candidates itself.