Just months after a modest IPO, shares of Immunome Inc. (NASDAQ:IMNM) climbed 75.6% on Feb. 18, closing at $39.01. Driving the momentum was an announcement that pseudovirus testing indicates that its antibody cocktail, IMM-BCP-001, appears capable of neutralizing several SARS-CoV-2 variants, an emerging challenge to currently available vaccines and pandemic management efforts. Immunome's president and CEO, Purnanand Sarma, told BioWorld that he hopes to file an IND for the program and, subject to FDA approval, begin clinical testing in the first half of this year.

The Exton, Pa.-based company's Immunome Discovery Engine, a hybridoma library generation and screening platform, is based on interrogating memory B cells isolated from both cancer and infectious disease patients. An early application of the approach was in scientific founder Scott Dessain's work interrogating the memory B cells of polio patients to identify novel antibodies directed at that virus.

Purnanand Sarma, president and CEO, Immunome

In the case of its COVID-19 research, the company took the form of tapping SARS-CoV-2 "super-responders" who in recovery from the infection mount a robust immune response to a broad range of viral targets, including spike and non-spike proteins. An unrefereed preprint about the findings is currently published on the Biorxiv preprint sever.

Of note, Sarma said his team has found antibodies that bind to conserved epitopes not only on SARS-CoV-1, but also SARS-CoV-2 spike, as well as to other non-spike targets. "Targeting some of those epitopes could be a very interesting and very productive way to think about the emerging variants," he said.

"This evolution of thinking allows us, we believe, to come up with a more comprehensive approach to COVID-19 or any other pandemic for that matter, because our engine allows us to probe those immune responses in a very rapid fashion," Sarma said.

In July 2020, Immunome was awarded a $13.3 million technology award from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD)'s Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense, in collaboration with the Defense Health Agency, to support its COVID-19 program. Though the focus of that work, IMM-BCP-001, has been referred to at times by the company as a "biosynthetic convalescent plasma" – hence the BCP in its name – it does not, in fact, include blood plasma. (Actual convalescent plasma has proved too variable to be effective against COVID-19, multiple studies have found.)

Rather, because individuals with strong responses to SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses use multiple responses to clear them, "we wanted to see what are the powerful mechanisms that these patients are eliciting, and can we combine some of those mechanisms to essentially recreate what a convalescent plasma-type response might look like," he said.

Exclusive rights to the technology behind the approach is licensed from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Thomas Jefferson University and Edinburgh, U.K.-based Arrayjet Ltd. Earlier this month, Immunome also enlisted manufacturing expertise from Abzena Ltd., a contract development and manufacturing organization that will help it produce its antibody cocktail for testing.

In addition to the COVID-19 program, Immunome is advancing IMM-ONC-01, which targets interleukin-38, a small protein secreted by various cells of the body, which appears to function as a novel immune checkpoint inhibitor. Upon successful completion of its preclinical evaluation of the candidate, its team expects to file an IND in the second half of this year.

To finance its work, in addition to its recent DOD award, Immunome has raised net proceeds of $41.7 million in its October 2020 IPO. Earlier, it raised $5 million series A financing in 2016.