Martinsried-based autoimmune specialist Immunic AG secured financial support for the next 3.5 years from lead investors Life Sciences Partners and LifeCare Partners (LCP, Switzerland) based on prior autoimmune programmes of 4SC AG.
“Our business focus will be on the development of small molecule drugs against autoimmune diseases such as IBD and psoriasis until the proof-of-concept”, said co-founder Manfred Groeppel, COO of Immunic AG. “We hope to start clinical trials with our first compound in Q1/2017,” he told European Biotechnology Magazine. According to Groeppel, further details about the current pipeline, including a compound expected to come to the clinic in 2018, will be disclosed soon in a separate press release.
Swiss and Dutch arms of lead investors Life Science Partners and Swiss LifeCare Partners as well as private investors, Bayern Kapital and High-Tech Gründerfonds provided €17.5m of preferred stock financing, one of the largest Series A biotech venture capital financings in Germany. Immunic AG, which will be set up as a virtual company, starts with an experienced management team including co-founder Andreas Mühler, who has been working at companies such as Millenium Pharma, Takeda, or Ferring, as interim CMO. Groeppel has huge management experience, even in the autoimmune field: He comes in from 4SC AG, a biotech company dedicated on the development of small-molecules for autoimmune and cancer indications. In the autoimmune field 4SC is developing dihydroorotate dehydrogenase blocker Vidofludimus, which has successfully passed Phase IIa studies and is now ready for outlicencing.
“There are still large unmet medical needs in the field of autoimmune and immunological diseases. This is particularly true for safe and convenient therapies that can be taken as a tablet, a dosage form preferred over intravenous administration by patients and health care systems alike”, said Dr. Jörg Neermann, partner at LSP and member of Immunic’s Supervisory Board. “We are convinced that Immunic’s experienced management team will substantially advance the therapeutic options in this field.”
“I am pleased to see the financing round being completed with the support of the Bavarian Growth Fund. Just as with other start-ups, our focus with Immunic is on creating the best possible environment for the development and implementation of innovative ideas. This is the fundamental idea behind the Growth Fund. Innovation is the seed of products and enterprises, creating the jobs of tomorrow. This benefits businesses and people in the entire region,” commented Ilse Aigner, the Bavarian Minister of Economic Affairs. “I very much look forward to seeing Immunic’s clinical development programs advance and wish its team great success.”
For Bavaria, it’s the second large Series A financing of a company specialised in immunological modulators. This week also cancer immune therapy company iOmx Therapeutics kicked off in the Bavarian biotech cluster.
Updated 28 Sept.: Because stock exchange rules blocked an earlier announcement, Immunic added details on its current pipeline one day later. The company announced it had acquired the entire autoimmune development programme from Martinsried-based 4SC AG, including two published preclinically well-characterised autoimmune candidates, at an undisclosed price.
The first public candidate comprises the novel dihydroorotate dehydrogenase (DHODH) inhibitor IMU-838, which blocks pyrimidine synthesis in B and T lymphocytes, thereby eleminating their over-activation in patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). According to the patents previously held by 4SC AG, a prior problem of DHODH blockers was their toxicity, a feature not observed in candidate drugs such as 4SC’s Morbus Crohn medicine Vidofludimus (4SC-101), which showed „no critical safety issues“ but a response rate of 88.5% vs placebo (20%) in a single arm, open label Phase IIa study on 26 patients with mild to moderate disease, when used in combination with standard treatment such as methotrexate. Immunic plans to initiate Phase I testing of IMU-838 in early 2017.
The second programme, IMU-366, adds one more RORγt blocker to the appr. 30 programmes currently in the drug pipeline of pharma companies. RORγt blockers are immunosupressants that selectively block the development of TH17 cells from releasing the proinflammatory cytokine IL-17 that triggers a cytokine and chemokine cascade ending in autoinflammation. IMU-366 is a preclinically well-characterised carboxylate derivative, expected to be developed as combination therapy in psoriasis and related indications, that might come to the clinic in 2018. However, competion by other RORγt blockers or anti-IL17A antibodies is huge.