Boehringer backs €20M Series A in checkpoint inhibitor startup

Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund has joined with Kurma Partners and Idinvest to lead a €20 million ($22 million) Series A in checkpoint inhibitor startup ImCheck Therapeutics. The investment sets ImCheck up to advance antibodies that act on gamma-delta T cells through preclinical with a view to entering phase 1 in 2019.

Marseille, France-based ImCheck has secured the financing on the strength of research carried out by Daniel Olive, who performed the work on which the company is based at Centre de Recherche en Cancérologie de Marseille. That research took Olive beyond the T cells and targets that form the bedrock of the first wave of immuno-oncology drugs.

“What he's been doing is classical immune checkpoint inhibitor research but targeting a different type of T cells and different targets,” ImCheck CEO Pierre d’Epenoux said.

Notably, Olive and his team dug deep into gamma-delta T cells. These cells have been studied less than the more common alpha-beta cells but interest in them has ratcheted up in recent years as evidence of their role in cancer has mounted and companies have strived to find less congested niches of the immuno-oncology sector. Olive has also studied BTLA and this target is on ImCheck’s initial list of priorities.

D’Epenoux recently came on board as CEO after a career that featured spells at Baxter, Sanofi and, most recently, Theravectys. And, having put together the €20 million Series B, he is now trying to get the company moving its three families of antibodies forward as quickly as possible.

“There is an interest for us to go fast,” D’Epenoux said.

The team increased in size by approximately 50% this week. But at 10 people, most of whom are working in R&D, the team is still fairly small. D’Epenoux and his colleagues are setting up links with CROs to support their work. This will only take the company so far, though.

“We will need greater firepower to be able to accomplish more,” D’Epenoux said.

This is where the nascent talks ImCheck is having with pharma companies could help. D’Epenoux sees select codevelopment deals and R&D collaborations giving ImCheck access to additional resources and capabilities, while allowing it to remain an independent business with its own prospects. These deals could cover ImCheck’s cancer programs, or allow it to tap into the potential for its assets to treat autoimmune diseases without diluting its focus on getting into the clinic in oncology.

Gimv and LSP also participated in the round.