Imara lands $63M crossover round to trial sickle cell drug

Sickle cell smear
A sickle cell smear. (Keith Chambers/Wikimedia Commons)

Imara has raised a $63 million crossover round to advance its sickle cell disease drug. The series B will enable Imara to wrap up a phase 2a trial of a phosphodiesterase-9 inhibitor it picked up from Lundbeck and push deeper into the clinic. 

Massachusetts-based Imara emerged from orphan drug accelerator Cydan Development in 2016 with $31 million in series A funding and a small molecule licensed from Lundbeck. The drug, IMR-687, is designed to block PDE9 activity, thereby increasing cGMP and fetal globin while reducing the sickling and adhesion of red and white blood cells, respectively. These effects could reduce the blockage of blood vessels in sickle cell patients.

Hydroxyurea, an approved medicine, has similar effects on sickle cell disease but also causes severe side effects, including bone marrow suppression and infertility. By proposing a way to improve on the risk-benefit profile of hydroxyurea, Imara attracted investment from backers including New Enterprise Associates and Pfizer Venture Investments to support its advance into clinical trials.

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Three years later, Imara has grown its investor syndicate ahead of a potential IPO. OrbiMed Advisors and Arix Bioscience co-led the series B with the support of new and existing investors, including NEA and Pfizer. Arix, a publicly traded company, disclosed that it invested $15 million for a 10% stake.

The round positions Imara to advance and expand its clinical development activities. To date, Imara has taken IMR-687 through a study in healthy volunteers and into an ongoing phase 2 that is looking at its safety, pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics in 54 adults with sickle cell anemia.

Imara is closing in on the completion of the phase 2a, beyond which it plans to move into later-stage development. In parallel, Imara is gearing up to test the effect of IMR-687 on thalassemia—another blood disease caused by errors in the genes that code for hemoglobin—and expand its pipeline beyond the lead molecule.  

Other companies are developing advanced therapies to treat the diseases targeted by Imara. Vertex and CRISPR Therapeutics have a gene-edited sickle cell therapy in early-phase development, while Bluebird Bio and Sangamo Therapeutics are applying their own genetic technologies to the disease. 

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