Immunoscape Ltd. closed an $11 million global equity financing round led by U.S.-based venture firm Anzu Partners along with University of Tokyo Edge Capital in Japan, and Indonesia's NPR Holdings. The company plans to use the funds to ramp up its immune profiling technology platform, which performs deep T-cell analysis, and expand partnerships to develop vaccines for COVID-19 and other viruses as well as targeted oncology therapies.
“We are expanding our presence in the U.S. and will have a lab on the West Coast very soon,” Immunoscape CEO Choon-Peng Ng told BioWorld. “The business development team that we are building on both coasts will engage with drug development companies that can speed up their programs by collaborating with us. On the technology front, we are deploying multi-immunomics platforms for high dimensional immune profiling, and developing the next generation functions for our cloud-based analytical platform called Cytographer.”
While Singapore-based Immunoscape is involved in COVID-19 vaccine research with companies around the world, the pandemic did not factor into the lead investor’s initial decision.
“Ironically, our Investment Committee approved the investment before COVID-19 arose,” David Michael, managing partner of Anzu Partners told BioWorld. “We made the investment decision primarily based upon Immunoscape’s highly differentiated ability to enable better immunotherapy development. However, now that the biotech world is also focused on how to develop durable T-cell immunity for COVID, we are delighted that Immunoscape has a helpful platform in this urgent battle.”
Michael explained that Anzu seeks companies for its portfolio that have two common denominators. Immunoscape checked both boxes.
“We seek to help accelerate the most important new enabling technologies in life sciences. Perhaps one common denominator is technologies that can characterize and analyze the fundamentals of biology, so that they can be harnessed for human health,” he said. “A second common dominator focuses on enabling more rapid drug development and production.”
“We are at an exciting time in history where advances in biology, hardware, and software together enable these breakthroughs for the first time. We want to be a central enabler of these vital innovations,” Michael added.
Immunoscape’s T-cell analysis platform uses high dimensional mass spectrometry methods developed by company co-founder Evan Newell.
The technology “uniquely delivers single-cell resolution of T-cells. For millions of cells simultaneously. And that single cell resolution focuses on capturing many dimensions of t-cell phenotype and behavior, not just passive genetic information,” Michael noted. “Moreover, the technology also provides direct observation of which antigens the T-cells respond to. These sets of observations reflect a major advance in the immunotherapy tool kit, and could become a new gold standard in drug development.”
The company and its researchers have previously focused on influenza, hepatitis B, dengue, and other viral diseases, and has brought an understanding of how T-cell immune response works in those illnesses to its work on COVID-19 vaccine design and therapeutics development.
“Leveraging on Targetscape, our unique high dimensional immune profiling approach that simultaneously identifies the rare antigen specific T-cells and provide the phenotypic functions of the T-cells, we are able to detect the T-cell responses to the COVID-19 virus,” said Ng. “This technology can be applied to funneling and prioritization of the T-cell epitopes that are relevant to COVID-19 so that vaccines can be designed for the virus.”
The company also focuses on immunotherapies for oncology, with a goal of providing “a clearer picture to biopharma companies and regulators on how cancer therapies can be personalized,” Ng noted.
Generally, that work takes one of two directions. In the first, pharmaceutical companies partner with Immunoscape to develop better understanding of patients’ responses to investigational drugs. The drug company provides samples taken from patients in clinical trials at multiple points in time and Immunoscape analyzes how the drug’s biological activity and the patient’s immune response change over the period.
“This data on immune cell responses, coupled with our drug development partners' understanding of their patients' phenotypes and characteristics, will provide a very good picture of what the patient is going through during the clinical trial,” Ng said.
In other cases, Immunoscape uses its platform to discover biomarkers that separate responders and non-responders to therapies. “This deep understanding of immune response, and knowledge of biomarkers, will provide a clearer picture to biopharma companies and regulators on how cancer therapies can be personalized,” Ng added.