IFM gets new CEO, bags another $55M to launch incubator, new subsidiaries

Test tubes
IFM's incubator, IFM Discovery, will focus on developing small molecule immunotherapies for inflammatory diseases and cancers, the first of which will be housed in a new subsidiary: IFM Quattro. (University of Michigan School of Medicine/CC BY 2.0)

It’s been a busy year for IFM Therapeutics. After selling off a subsidiary to Novartis and enlisting the Big Pharma as a partner for another unit, the company is promoting its R&D chief Martin Seidel, Ph.D., to CEO and reeling in $55.5 million to fund more subsidiaries, including an incubator. 

The new funding, led by Omega Funds with Atlas Venture and Abingworth chipping in, will support its new incubator, IFM Discovery, as well as IFM Quattro, the company’s third subsidiary. The capital could also bankroll up to two additional subsidiaries, the company said in a statement. Each new company will focus on “select targets of the innate immune system.” 

IFM Discovery will focus on developing small molecule immunotherapies for inflammatory diseases and cancers, the first of which will be housed in IFM Quattro, the company said. 

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RELATED: Novartis bankrolls IFM Due's cGAS/STING pipeline—with $840M buyout option

“While specific targets cannot be disclosed at this time, we will be prosecuting a basket of innate immune targets, including a number that fall into the inflammasome and pattern recognition receptor space,” Seidel told FierceBiotech via email. “All of these targets are known to play a role in various serious diseases, including inflammatory diseases, autoimmune diseases and cancer.” 

IFM Discovery’s work will not overlap with that of IFM’s two other subsidiaries, Seidel said. IFM Tre, which launched with $31 million in July 2018, had been working on NLRP3 antagonists before Novartis snapped it up for $310 million upfront in April this year. And IFM Due launched in February this year to develop drugs targeting the cGAS/STING pathway to treat inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. It had been in the midst of raising a venture round when several potential partners came knocking. Novartis came out the victor, ponying up the equivalent of a “robust series A” and snagging an exclusive buyout option worth up to $840 million. 

Spinning off R&D programs into their own subsidiaries has been IFM’s modus operandi from the start: “[it] provides significant flexibility for IFM to dedicate more focused internal and external research and development resources to each program to ensure that each program is resourced in a manner that best advances the science to the clinic and to patients as rapidly and efficiently as possible,” said Lina Gugucheva, the company’s vice president of business development, operations and strategy. 

So, why set up a dedicated incubator? 

RELATED: Novartis ponies up $310M for IFM Therapeutics’ inflammation-focused unit

“This formalized incubator model with IFM Discovery allows us to work on a basket of attractive targets within the innate immune system on parallel tracks, as opposed to sequentially as we have done in the past,” Seidel said. “Once a target-specific program has a clear line of sight to the clinic, a decision will then be made to place the program into its own dedicated subsidiary, at which point we will execute the same business model that IFM has achieved success with up to this point.” 

Seidel succeeds IFM co-founder and CEO Gary Glick, Ph.D., who transitions to executive chairman. He joined the company from Novartis Institutes of Biomedical Research (NBIR) in 2017, taking up the post of executive vice president of R&D. But the duo had met long before that. 

“Gary and I have known each other for 30 years since the time we were in Jeremy Knowles’ lab at Harvard in the late 80s, where he was a post-doc, and I was a graduate student,” Seidel said. Fast forward to 2016: Glick was working on raising IFM’s series A with Atlas Venture and approached Novartis. It was a “no-brainer” for Seidel, who was heading business development for NIBR at the time. 

After spending a year as a board observer, Seidel received—and accepted—a job offer from Glick. And the rest, he said, is history. 

“Our team will continue to blaze new trails, and the best part is that Gary and I will continue on together, just in new roles,” he said.

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