Massachusetts-based Immuneering Corporation has closed an oversubscribed $62m Series B round. The financing was led by Cormorant Asset Management. Surveyor Capital, Rock Springs Capital, as well as funds and accounts managed by BlackRock and Perceptive Advisors, among others, also participated in the round.
The $62m will primarily be used, according to Immuneering co-founder and CEO Ben Zeskind, to support the company’ internal portfolio, which leverages its proprietary disease-cancelling platform. In particular, the funding will help the company to advance its lead candidate, IMMI-1-104, an oncology drug focused on the MEK part of the RAS/MAPK pathway, into clinical trials before the end of the year, Zeskind notes.
“With new treatments urgently needed for patients who have tumours dependent on MAPK signalling, we are thrilled to lead this Series B financing and bring together a syndicate to support Immuneering at a pivotal stage in the company’s growth,” noted Cormorant Asset Management managing director Andrew Phillips.
The funding will further be used to continue the other half of Immuneering’s business: computation biology services. This side of the business involves “working with large pharma companies on existing medicines to help them understand how to make those medicines better by targeting them to the right patients, identifying optimal combinations and better understanding the mechanism of action”, Zeskind explains.
Immuneering and its disease-cancelling platform
Founded in 2008, Immuneering initially focused on its bioinformatic services and collaboration business. However, after “noticing some common themes and counterintuitive lessons” in the drug development field – particularly that drugs are viewed as silver bullets and that targeting one part of a pathway is enough to treat diseases effectively – Zeskind says the team decided to explore this more deeply. Instead, the team noticed that transcriptomics was playing an important role and there was a need to focus across several genes in a pathway, rather than a single target.
To do this, they took cues from the concept behind noise-cancelling headphones, and developed an in-house ‘disease-cancelling’ technology to “help us identify new targets and find new ways to go after existing targets”. Zeskind explains noise-cancelling headphones work “by taking in an unwanted noise and generating this anti-noise or mirror image signal, then when you put them together you get destructive interference, [which is] 180 degrees out of phase” with the original sound waves.
Importantly, the technology also relies on human patient data. Zeskind explains that other computational approaches to drug discovery rely on cell lines, which are cultures of animal cells, but Immuneering’s analysis shows that although “some of the cell lines bear resemblance to tumours [for instance], there are a large number of patient tumours that look nothing like the cell lines genetically”.
Ultimately, according to Zeskind, Immuneering’s approach means it can zero in on not only the disease, but on particular aspects of the disease, to figure out the best way to tackle the disease being focused on.
Developing the Immuneering portfolio
Initially, the company focused on rolling out its disease-cancelling approach to its existing partnerships, but after running the numbers, Zeskind explains, Immuneering decided to pivot towards building its own internal pipeline. It started with oncology, which has been a “passion” of Immuneering from day one and an area in which the company has already done a lot of work; ultimately, oncology was the “natural place to start”, according to Zeskind.
Despite substantial progress in oncology in recent years, there is a lot of work left to do. Immuneering has focused its approach in cancer on the RAS/MAPK pathway because of a belief that it is “one of the most important unsolved problems in cancer today”, particularly around issues with resistance and toxicity. In addition, Immuneering’s disease-cancelling platform is well-suited to the complexity that comes with RAS/MAPK, which is why Zeskind notes that the team is very excited about what is to come for its lead programme in particular.
“Based on the animal data we are seeing [so far], we really think [IMM-1-104] could be a much more effective and tolerated way to go after this pathway”, Zeskind adds.
As the oncology pipeline developed, Immuneering decided to focus on other areas of high unmet need. The company created two new pipelines: one for neuroscience and specifically Alzheimer’s disease, and another for immuno-oncology.
Zeskind says the company has built a strong team for each of the three elements of its portfolio. The oncology team centres around chief scientific officer Brett Hall, who Zeskind and the Immuneering team worked with while he was at Johnson and Johnson, while the neuroscience pipeline is headed by ex-US National Institutes of Health neuroscientist Jermaine Ross.
Finally, Zeskind is excited to be working with Howard Kaufman, a “pioneer in the cancer immunotherapy field” who was brought onboard in January 2020 to lead Immuneering’s immuno-oncology pipeline. Kaufman is also serving as the company’s head of research and development.