BioWorld International Correspondent

MUNICH, Germany - Immatics Biotechnologies GmbH closed its first round of venture financing, raising €8.5 million.

Immatics, of Tuebingen, Germany, is a drug discovery and development company, specializing in treatments for various cancers, particularly kidney cancer. Immatics also has built a business in bioreagents, which will remain as a non-core activity as the company builds its discovery and development efforts.

"I think it's the results from clinical studies, combined with a technology that should give a broad pipeline that interested venture investors," Niels Emmerich, one of the company's managing directors, told BioWorld International. "We're not a one-product company, and we're not solely based on our technology platform."

Immatics is investigating short peptides that the company hopes will stimulate the body's immune system to work against tumors. It said it plans to progress quickest in kidney cancer, but hopes that the approach will be effective against more common cancers as well.

Emmerich added that the company's development is unusual for a biotech start-up.

"We financed our own seed phase with an operative business in bioreagents," he said. The company makes heat-shock proteins, proteasomal proteins, antibodies and custom peptides.

"We have different kits and agents for monoclonal antibodies," Emmerich said. "Today, we have international distribution and many of these activities are outsourced. In the beginning this was essential, but now it is not a core business."

Nevertheless, the company has been exposed to market questions that start-ups typically do not face until later.

"[Investors] understood the changeover," he said. "They told us it was impressive that we could set this up and put ourselves in a position to make the strategic jump to a drug development company."

Immatics' future rests on its ability to identify tumor-associated immunogenic peptides. Those are peptide antigens that can elicit cellular immune response directed against tumor tissue.

"Our platform can identify peptides with unprecedented speed and precision," Emmerich said. "Basically, we combine methods from genomics and mass spectrometry identification of peptides to see if the peptides can elicit a strong and specific response."

The company has reached its first proof of concept with its lead candidates. A study of 20 patients with advanced metastatic renal-cell carcinoma showed what Emmerich called encouraging results with two Immatics peptides.

"The next test will be a combined FDA/EMEA Phase I-II trial with more than 40 patients in different centers," he said. "The capital from this round of investment will cover this next stage."

Emmerich expects the company's resources to be sufficient to bring the lead compounds through a Phase IIb trial, after which it expects to partner with a pharmaceutical company to bring the product to market.

"We are already in discussions with potential partners from big pharma," said Emmerich. "We plan to announce the first partnership by the end of 2005."

Investors in the company include the EMBL Technology Fund, Wellington Partners, 3i Group, Grazia Equity, Merifin Capital and SEED/L-EA. The company received an undisclosed amount of angel funding in the summer of 2002.