LONDON – Immunocore Ltd. has closed a series B round that will bring in more than $130 million, breathing fresh energy into its T-cell receptor programs in cancer and extending the reach of the technology into infectious and autoimmune diseases.
The funding comes 12 months after a complete corporate remake of the Abingdon, U.K.-based company, which is now largely run by former employees of Astrazeneca plc’s Medimmune biologics division.
While a striking amount for a U.K. company, the series B is a far cry from the glory days of July 2015, when Immunocore smashed through the European record for a private round, raising $320 million.
There is not much to show for the investment, with the most tangible sign of progress being that lead internal program tebentafusp (Imcgp-100) in the rare disease indication of uveal melanoma has advanced from phase IIa (which began in October 2013), to a pivotal trial that is expected to complete recruitment by the end of 2020.
In addition, two other wholly owned programs are nearing the clinic, for the treatment of hepatitis B and to target Prame (preferentially expressed antigen in melanoma), which despite its name occurs in a wide range of tumors.
Immunocore raised the series A – reaching a reported valuation of $1 billion – on the foundations of four large corporate deals signed in 2013-2014, with Glaxosmithkline (GSK) plc, Roche Holding AG’s Genentech, Astrazeneca’s Medimmune and Eli Lilly and Co., that underlined the attractions of Immunocore’s synthetic, off-the-shelf approach to cancer immunotherapy.
However, despite price tags of well over $200 million per program, those deals, too, have progressed slowly. The most advanced, signed with GSK in 2013, reached the clinic in August 2018 and is now at the end of the dose-escalation phase. GSK paid $212 million for preclinical development of that product, Imcnyeso, and has the rights to take the program in-house at the end of phase I. The lead Genentech program entered clinical trials at the end of 2019.
The signatory of the January 2013 deal with Astrazeneca, worth $320 million per program, was Bahija Jallal, then executive vice president at Medimmune, and since January 2019 CEO of Immunocore.
On signing the Astrazeneca deal, Jallal said Immunocore’s technology provided the opportunity to achieve treatment breakthroughs in immune-mediated cancer therapies. Despite slow progress, with no program arising from the deal yet to reach IND-enabling studies, she remains convinced of the potential.
“It’s really important to go back to why I joined [Immunocore],” Jallal said. “[It is because] of outstanding science and seeing the possibilities of what the technology can do,” she told BioWorld.
The series B is led by General Atlantic, a new investor in Immunocore. Other new investors include China Construction Bank International, JDRF T1D Fund, Rock Springs Capital, Terra Magnum Capital Partners and Wuxi Apptec’s corporate Venture Fund.
Nursing their losses, some existing shareholders, including Lilly and RTW Investments followed on, while the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation remains an investor through conversion of an outstanding loan note.
Jallal said the money enables Immunocore to further expand and accelerate its clinical pipeline, including three oncology programs in MAGE-A4, in collaboration with Genentech, the GSK program and tebentafusp.
Previously, it referred to its products as Immtacs, an acronym for Immune mobilizing monoclonal TCRs against cancer, but the name has now been amended to Immtax, to reflect the move into infectious and autoimmune diseases. The constructs consist of T cells that recognize intracellular antigens which have been processed and presented on the cell surface as peptide-HLA complexes, linked to anti-CD3 antibody fragments which then activate the immune system.
In addition to hepatitis B, the new investment is expected to accelerate application of Immunocore’s technology in the treatment of autoimmune disease, including type 1 diabetes, in collaboration with the JDRF T1D Fund.
Jallal joined Immunocore following 10 months of turmoil at the company that started in February 2018 when Eliot Forster, the CEO who raised the $320 million series A, left. He was followed out the door by Paul Fry, chief financial officer, Eva-Lotta Allan, chief business officer, Christina Coughlin, chief medical officer, and Namir Hassam, head of Immunocore’s infectious diseases unit.
More problems followed, with the implosion in May 2019 of funds managed by Neil Woodford, who co-led the series A.
Reflecting back on the process of seeking new funding under such circumstances, Jallal said she is “very happy with where we ended up,” in terms of the series B. “With the money comes responsibility and accountability. We intend to deliver and execute,” she said.