Immunochina raises $20M for blood cancer CAR-T

Fresh from reporting clinical data at ASH, Beijing biotech Immunochina has raised $20 million in a third-round financing to speed up its CAR-T development programs.

The company says the cash injection will go towards expanding its manufacturing capacity as well as funding trials of its lead CAR-T IM19 for B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL) and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as follow-up candidates for multiple solid and liquid tumors. It’s hoping for approval to take two more programs into the clinic before the end of the year.

Immunochina is targeting China’s domestic market to begin with, but co-founder and CEO Ting He, Ph.D., is frank about the biotech’s aspiration to become an international CAR-T player.

“We are observing increasing interest from international companies in our CAR-T cell therapy products and lentiviral manufacturing platform, [and] our Series C financing round enables us to continue growing into a stronger company with potential to enter the global market,” he said.

The financing comes shortly after Immunochina reported interim results at ASH from a trial of IM19 in 110 patients suffering from relapsed or refractory B-ALL, with impressive results—a 93% complete response rate and relapse-free survival at one year above 70%.

Immunochina said this was impressive given that the study included hard-to-treat subjects, including patients with extramedullary disease, where tumors have formed in the soft tissues and organs of the body, and mutations associated with aggressive disease.

The company says its aim is to position IM19 as a best-in-class CAR-T as it is playing catch-up with two marketed CD19-targeted CAR-Ts—Novartis’ Kymriah and Gilead/Kite’s Yescarta—which were approved for B-cell malignancies in 2017.

Immunochina’s medical director Hai-feng Feng—who was previously director of hematology at Johnson & Johnson’s Chinese unit Xian-Janssen Pharmaceuticals—says IM19’s trial was designed to “reflect more diverse, real-world patient groups, in order to gain accurate data on safety and efficacy profiles.”

China’s biotech industry is pushing hard into CAR-T despite entering the field later than their western counterparts, with the first CAR-T clinical trial—for Legend Biotech’s BCMA-targeted LCAR-B38M for multiple myeloma—approved by the Chinese regulator last year. There are now more than a dozen Chinese CAR-T candidates in trials from the likes of JW Therapeutics, Hrain Biotech, Galaxy Biomed, Unicar Therapy and others.

Immunochina’s Series C was led by a syndicate of Chinese and international investors including Shougang Fund, Sherpa Venture Capital, Peter Thiel, Qingzhe Capital and China Resources Innovative Equity Investment Fund.