Sanofi Genzyme helps cancer biotech ImmuneXcite close $8.6M financing round

ImmuneXcite CEO Eric Furfine

ImmuneXcite has raised $8.6 million in a Series A financing round as the immuno-oncology biotech announced the addition of Glaxo ($GSK) and Sanofi Genzyme ($SNY) veterans to its executive crew.

The Lexington, MA-based company said in a statement that it plans to use the funding to complete studies that will allow it to choose a lead program to start clinical trials. The investors included Cormorant Asset Management, Sanofi Genzyme BioVentures, and Partners Innovation Fund.

Last year, the company announced new preclinical data which showed its mAbXcite platform helps the immune system recruit T-cells to mount an attack against cancer in preclinical models of treatment-resistant colorectal and breast cancer.

The biotech said its platform represents a "fundamentally new approach" in the quickly growing field of cancer immunotherapy.

By attaching a fungal sugar known as beta-1,6-glucan to antibodies that seek out and bind to tumor cells, mAbXcite therapies recruit neutrophils, the first responders of the immune system, to cancer cells. The neutrophils then recruit other immune cells, including T-cells, to mount an immune attack.

In association with its financing round, Eric Furfine, formerly head of research at (the now struggling) Eleven Biotherapeutics ($EBIO) and a veteran from GSK and Regeneron ($REGN), has been appointed as acting CEO and chief scientific officer, and will also serve as a member of the board. 

In addition, the company has further expanded its board of directors with drug industry veterans, Jim Geraghty and John Edwards, with Edwards serving as executive chairman. Edwards, who began his career in research at Genzyme, later helped lead Adnexus from a startup to the $450 million acquisition by Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) in 2007, just 4 years after its launch.

Geraghty, currently of Third Rock Ventures, has spent decades in the biotech field as chairman of the Board of Idera Pharmaceuticals ($IDRA) as well as Juniper Pharmaceuticals ($JNP). He formerly served as senior VP of North America strategy and business development at Sanofi, which he joined upon its acquisition of Genzyme. Geraghty in fact spent 20 years at Genzyme, where his roles included being president of Genzyme Europe. 

Finally, Ann DeWitt, senior director of investments and principal at Sanofi-Genzyme BioVentures, will also join ImmuneXcite's board.

Meanwhile, internally, Ifat Rubin-Bejerano, ImmuneXcite's scientific co-founder and inventor of the company's technology platform, has been named head of research.

Edwards said: "This is a significant time in ImmuneXcite's evolution. While the field of immuno-oncology has historically focused on the adaptive immune system, ImmuneXcite is the only biopharmaceutical company executing a targeted approach that leverages the power of the body's innate and adaptive immune system in pursuit of effective and durable treatments for cancer.

"It is a privilege to collaborate with such an experienced group of colleagues in a thrilling area of drug development with the potential to make a significant shift in the treatment of cancer."

Recruiting T-cells to help the immune system attack cancerous cells is one of the hot tickets in biotech, with a slew of other biopharmas attempting similar studies. Many are now taking slightly different approaches and just this week, the Dutch biotech spinout Gadeta started a $7 million funding round to jump-start its research based on insights into gamma delta (γδ) T cells.

T cells could prove to a blockbuster mechanism of action, but there are limitations to its efficacy; Gadeta, ImmuneXcite and others will hope to be on the right path when it comes to future clinical trials.