Gates invests in Immunocore to spur infectious disease R&D

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Courtesy of Jack at Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.0])

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is investing up to $40 million in Immunocore to spur research into the use of T cell receptor (TCR)-based therapeutics to treat tuberculosis and HIV.

Immunocore is primarily known for its work in cancer. That is what prompted AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline and Roche’s Genentech to strike deals with Immunocore, and what underpinned its $320 million (€268 million) round in 2015. But, while cancer drugs dominate its pipeline from the IND-enabling stage onward, Immunocore’s early-stage teams are also working on autoimmune and infectious disease programs.

Oxford, U.K.-based Immunocore’s infectious disease work has attracted the attention of the Gates Foundation, prompting the world’s largest charitable foundation to invest up to $40 million in the company. Immunocore will use the money to advance programs against tuberculosis and HIV.

Both programs are in preclinical stages, but Immunocore has generated data to support the idea of using TCR-based therapeutics to treat infectious diseases. Last year, Immunocore released in vitro data showing its molecules turn the immune system against HIV-infected CD4+ T-cells, suggesting they may be able to wipe out reactivated HIV reservoir cells.

Immunocore will use some of the Gates Foundation investment to fund R&D into these ImmTAVs, immune-mobilizing monoclonal TCRs against viruses. Another tranche will support work into a related, bacteria-focused class of monoclonal TCRs, ImmTABs, which could orchestrate similar attacks on tuberculosis.

The programs benefit from Immunocore’s work to fuse TCRs to humanized CD3-specific single chain variable fragments to treat cancer. 

The investment by the Gates Foundation is reminiscent of others it has made in biotechs. Kymab, another British biotech, and Lodo Therapeutics are among the biotechs to receive investment from the nonprofit. In each case, the involvement of the Gates Foundation has enabled the biotech to apply its drug discovery platform and R&D capabilities to diseases beyond those prevalent in the West that attract investment from traditional VCs, such as cancer. 

“We have to find that match where we’re not distracting a company, but we're actually emboldening and supporting a company by becoming their partner and considering the whole world, not just one sector of the market,” Gates Foundation partner Charlotte Hubbert said last year. 

In the case of Immunocore, that means providing a source of earmarked cash and support so the biotech can step up its infectious disease R&D while continuing to advance the cancer programs on which its reputation and prospects rest.