Bayer, Novartis-backed Immunitas secures $58M series B to push new checkpoint inhibitors past blockade

Immunitas CEO Jeffrey Goldberg is looking to boost his leadership team with the $58 million series B. (Immunitas Therapeutics)

Initially backed by Novartis and Bayer's venture arms, immuno-oncology biotech Immunitas has secured another $58 million to push a new class of checkpoint inhibitors on to the next stop. 

Immunitas is attempting to tackle the hurdles traditionally associated with checkpoint inhibitors, which don't work for everyone and typically require combination regimens with investigational drugs to boost their clinical potential. The biotech is now one step closer to moving its programs into the clinic.

The company emerged on the scene in 2019 with funding from Big Pharmas like Bayer and Novartis, through their venture outfits, along with other investment firms. Joining those high-profile names for the latest series B round are venture firms Medical Excellence Capital, Solasta Ventures and foundations like The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research, the American Cancer Society's BrightEdge and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Therapy Acceleration Program. 

The lead asset from the company's single-cell sequencing platform, IMT-009, is for solid tumor and hematological cancers. The therapy has shown enhanced tumor killing and increased survival in preclinical systems, the company said. A regulatory filing to begin clinical studies is slated for the first half of next year, said CEO Jeffrey Goldberg in an interview with Fierce Biotech.

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Goldberg emphasized the two-year-old company's quick clinical ambitions. Immunitas derives from the research of scientists at Harvard's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Massachusetts General Hospital. The single-cell sequencing platform gives Immunitas "a lot of powerful data" about every cell in any human tissue sample that it processes, Goldberg said.

The program gives Immunitas information on "what genes are up, what genes are down, what proteins are being produced" and other insights that are combined with biological perspective and clinical knowledge.

Immunitas has also produced a second program using the platform, called IMT-073, which targets NK and T-cells just like the first asset and also uses the same cell type. But IMT-073 differs in biology, target and mechanism, according to Goldberg. The similarities allow Immunitas to "leverage a lot of our knowledge base, our experience, in moving that forward." A third target will be selected later this year, Goldberg said, noting the company is down to a "handful" of options. 

The Boston-area therapeutics outfit is looking to hire top-notch scientific talent as it moves toward human trials. With new funding led by Agent Capital, Immunitas is on the hunt for a chief scientific officer and has begun recruiting for a chief medical officer, Goldberg said. The biotech boosted its leadership team in conjunction with the financing by promoting Amanda Wagner to chief business officer from vice president of strategy. 

Goldberg described the talent pool in Boston as "massive" but with incredibly high demand and a lot of competition. 

"Everybody we meet has six offers, and so it becomes a timing issue more than anything else," Goldberg said.