Cash injection sets up first trial of ImmunoMet's lead cancer metabolism drug

Cash will also help the company bring forward immuno-oncology candidates in early-stage development.(ImmunoMet)

Texas biotech ImmunoMet has raised $5 million in a second-round fundraising that paves the way for a first clinical trial of its lead cancer drug.

The Series B funding top-up will fund a phase 1 trial of oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) inhibitor IM156 due to start in the second quarter, said ImmunoMet's founder and CEO Dr. Sung-wuk Kim. It will also help the firm bring forward immuno-oncology candidates currently in preclinical development, including IM188, which is expected to start testing next year.

The Houston-based company, a spinoff from South Korean company HanAll BioPharma—also led by Dr. Kim—raised $5.2 million in an initial fundraising last year that allowed it to set up its U.S. headquarters and start adding to its executive team, recruiting ex-Shire and Merck executive Benjamin Cowen as chief operating officer last November.

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ImmunoMet is taking a two-pronged approach to cancer, with the two treatment approaches both hinging on combination use with other anticancer drugs.

Lead candidate IM156 targets slow-growing tumor cells that tend to be protected from treatment with typical cancer therapies that have been designed to hit fast-growing, high-metabolizing cells. The sluggish cells play a key role in the spread and recurrence of tumors, however, and IM156 is designed to kill them by switching off their metabolism, complementing the effects of cell-killing chemotherapy.

The biguanide drug has shown promise in preclinical studies in brain and lung tumors, and according to preclinical tests accumulates in cancerous tissues, inhibiting cancer stem cell growth, metastasis and the emergence of resistant cells, the biotech says.

Specifically, IM156 is thought to work by activating AMPK, an enzyme also boosted by the widely used diabetes drug metformin, also a biguanide compound. Metformin has also been tested for its ability to inhibit tumor growth without success so far, in part because it has to be delivered at high doses to have an effect, and that raises the risk of side effects. ImmunoMet says its candidate has greater potency and can be delivered in a single low dose.

ImmunoMet is not alone in trying to develop cancer drugs that target the OXPHOS pathway. MD Anderson Cancer Center has OXPHOS inhibitor IACS-10759 in early-stage clinical development for acute myeloid leukemia, while MEI Pharma is developing a candidate drug called ME 344 that that is currently in trials in combination with Roche's Avastin (bevacizumab) for HER-2 negative breast cancer.

Meanwhile, ImmunoMet's second anticancer track is headed by immuno-oncology drug IM188, a small-molecule drug that also aims to manipulate metabolic pathways in cancer cells and some white blood cells. In this case, the intention is to prevent tumor cells out-competing white cells for resources, and to interrupt processes in the tumor that result in the recruitment of immune suppressor cells.

IM188 is being developed in combination with other cancer immunotherapies, including an unnamed anti-PD1 drug, and has reached late stage lead-optimization. According to the company, it has already demonstrated tumor regression in a renal cancer model.

"This financing will fund the company’s phase 1 clinical study for IM156 and the preclinical studies of our immuno-oncology program that is focused on inhibiting immune suppressor cells,” said Cowen in a statement. "We are enthusiastic about the potential opportunities in our pipeline to provide life-saving medicines for patients, especially those with drug resistant cancers."