GamaMabs raises €15M to take immune-activating cancer candidate into the clinic

GamaMabs Pharma has raised €15 million ($16.4 million) to advance a monoclonal antibody against gynecological cancers into the clinic and up to proof-of-concept. Edmond de Rothschild Investment Partners' BioDiscovery 4 came on board to lead the Series B round.

GamaMabs CEO Stéphane Degove

Toulouse, France-based GamaMabs pocketed the cash on the strength of its lead candidate, GM102, and the platform that has enabled its development. GamaMabs picked up the technology platform, dubbed EMABling, from French plasma-derived medicinal product powerhouse LFB when it first set up shop in 2013. LFB was unable to find space for the platform--or another called HuMabFc--in its business. But the team of European biopharma veterans now leading GamaMabs--who include an R&D chief who held senior posts at Servier, Pierre Fabre and UCB--are enamoured by its potential.

"[It] produces low-fucose monoclonal antibodies. And, by doing that, these antibodies acquire the ability to activate immune cells, specifically macrophages and … natural killer cells," GamaMabs CEO Stéphane Degove, who worked at Sanofi ($SNY) and co-founded Endotis Pharma, told FierceBiotech. The prevalence of inactive versions of these immune cells, the presence of an untapped target and high unmet medical need have encouraged GamaMabs to focus on gynecologic cancers. "We have a program that activates these immune cells … and induces lysis of the tumor cells," Degove said.

GamaMabs' lead candidate, GM102, targets anti-Müllerian human receptor II (AMHRII). Researchers have known about the target since the 1990s, but it has taken time for knowledge of its expression in tumors to accumulate. Over the past decade, studies have shown AMHRII is found specifically in gynecological cancers. Expression in healthy cells is limited, a factor that Degove thinks could result in GM102 having a decent safety profile. GamaMabs will soon have the opportunity to become the first drug developer to test this idea in the clinic.

Having wrapped up the Series B round and regulatory-enabling preclinical studies, GamaMabs is set to file for approval to start a trial in Belgium and France early next year. The plan is to start enrolling patients with ovarian, endometrial and cervical cancers who have relapsed after chemotherapy in the first half of the year, setting GamaMabs up to deliver data in 2017. Phase II work in several patient populations is pencilled in for later that year. The €15 million, to which existing investors including Big Pharma-backed InnoBio contributed, will see GamaMabs through to the end of 2018.

By then, Degove expects to have the efficacy data that may shape the future of the company. At this stage, Degove is unwilling to commit to a course of action beyond clinical proof-of-concept. "We will choose in 2017, '18 what we want to do with the programs and the company. Everything is open for now," he said. Before that happens, GamaMabs has to navigate its first foray into the clinic, a task for which it expects to hire some additional staff. GamaMabs has made it this far with a headcount of 7 by outsourcing 95% of its research. "We are an asset-driven company," Degove said.

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