Founded in December 2018, Immunai focuses on mapping the entire immune system given the increased recognition of immune cells as key players in most illnesses. [Immunai]
Immunai says its ambitious goals of mapping the entire immune system and continuing its rapid growth will be made easier by the $215 million in financing the company has completed—a Series B round that has more than doubled the total capital raised by the three-year-old company.

The additional capital, which brings Immunai’s total funding to $295 million, will enable the company to expand its “drug actuary” platform for validating and evaluating potential drug targets.

Immunai says its actuary platform expands its capabilities beyond its harmonized single-cell immunology database, the Annotated Multiomic Immunological Cell Atlas (AMICA), which the company has built through proprietary technologies and more than 30 partnerships with Fortune 100 pharmaceutical companies and leading academic institutions, including Harvard, Stanford, Memorial Sloan Kettering, and Baylor College of Medicine.

“As we build the atlas of cells, we’re also building the connections between the cells,” Immunai CEO and co-founder Noam Solomon, PhD, told GEN Edge. “We have a systems biology approach to really understanding the human immune system. And in the past year and a half, we’ve been building the in vitro functional genomics capabilities to validate hypotheses and insights.”

The Series B financing extends Immunai’s financial “runway” to about three years, Solomon added, with the minor caveat, “if we’re not going to be overly aggressive with M&A or growth plans.”

Founded in December 2018, Immunai focuses on mapping the entire immune system given the increased recognition of immune cells as key players in most illnesses. The company has applied multi-omic, single-cell technologies and machine learning (ML) to better understand how the immune system operates, then shares those insights with biopharma companies, academic medical centers, and key opinion leaders in immunology.

Through AMICA’s clinically annotated database, Solomon said, Immunai learns the effect of various therapies on patients, and compared those insights to data collected in vitro. “For example, we mimic in vitro the behavior of an anti-PD-1 in a cell line, and we say, ‘Okay, this is what is happening with validated cells.”

The actuary platform, he added, will enable Immunai to ramp up the quantity and quality of analysis it can offer its industry and academic customers.

Causal inference

“We will be able to go from qualitative insights to a causal inference,” Solomon said. “The goal of this platform is to get to causality. We are able to tell you what is the value of the drug or what will happen to the cell if you stimulate the cell with a specific signal.”

Added Luis Voloch, PhD, Immunai’s chief technology officer: “We can have predictions of how a specific drug will work in different disease models, even without running some of the experiments, so that we can have ideas about which diseases might be the best fit for a specific drug, for us to be able to create these connections between the individual and individual systems with the machine learning models.”

“This has been a major effort for us and we intend to continue investing heavily in that,” Voloch added.

Immunai Chief Business Officer Mark Jacobstein

Mark Jacobstein, Immunai’s chief business officer, added that the actuary platform will enhance the company’s partnerships with its biopharma partners. The company has not disclosed any of those partnerships, though Solomon said smaller biotechs have shown the same appetite as pharma giants for Immunai’s technologies.

“There’s a huge problem in the industry with compounds that people are initially excited about that don’t ultimately succeed,” Jacobstein said. “One of the things that we’re very excited about commercially here is the ability to use this platform to help our biopharma partners make better predictions about which compounds they want to carry forward, of the many that are already in their arsenal.”

“As the actuary platform matures, this is going to be a critical tool for both us and our partners,” Jacobstein added.

Solomon said Immunai connected with KDT through Robert Langer, ScD, who was appointed to Immunai’s board earlier this year. Langer holds MIT’s highest faculty honor as an “Institute Professor,” is one of 12 Institute Professors at MIT, a co-founder of more than 40 public companies including Moderna, and the author of more than 1,000 patents, with more citations than any engineer in history.

“Bob has been on board for over six months now, and he thought that a connection to KDT would be beneficial for both sides and he made the introduction,” Solomon recalled.

Becoming friendly

While KDT was not involved when Immunai acquired Nebion this past summer for an undisclosed price, Solomon said, the acquisition presented an opportunity for Immunai to discuss its future growth plans with the investment firm: “We became friendly through the acquisition, so that our strategy and our long-term vision was fully aligned with the way that they viewed the investment.”

KDT led the Series B financing, which saw participation from Talos VC, 8VC, Alexandria Venture Investments, Piedmont, ICON, and other investors, including previous investors. KDT will take a seat on Immunai’s board.

Solomon said proceeds from Immunai’s Series B will also help the company continue a growth trajectory that has seen its staff triple from about 40–120 people in less than a year. Of the 120, 70 are professionals with PhD or MD degrees, based in one of five cities: New York, Tel Aviv, San Francisco, Zurich, and Prague.

Among recent hires has been Chief Science Officer Jacques Banchereau, PhD, Professor and Director, Immunological Sciences at The Jackson Laboratory, whose lab is working to characterize the human immune system in both healthy and disease states using genomic tools.

“We are probably going to go from about 120 to 200,” Solomon said.

Added Voloch: “One of the reasons for our very rapid development is we’ve relied on these very small multidisciplinary teams involving software developers, genomicists, immunologists, and machine learning people that are largely autonomous within the company, and can move extremely fast. For us to take this company to the next level, we need to retain the same level of agility and the independence in these things that both in recruiting as well as organizationally.”

Immunai says its projected growth in headcount will come from both internal growth and external expansion through mergers and acquisitions.

“We are planning to expand our current R&D capabilities in house, and our business and corporate development departments by hiring organically. But I think it is safe to say that we are planning more M&A in our future,” Solomon said.

The company expanded to Zurich and Prague when it acquired Nebion, which has created what it has called the world’s largest compendium of deeply curated transcriptomic data from public and private sources. Immunai reasoned that adding Nebion’s data will help it improve its ML models by enabling its platform to find drug targets from aggregated public data sets and providing validation data for targets found through other methods.

Nebion was Immunai’s second acquisition this year; the first was Dropprint Genomics, a Y Combinator-backed San Francisco startup that has developed computational infrastructure designed to conduct single-cell sequencing at scale, as well as proprietary methods for cost-effective processing of hundreds of patient samples, and a large database of immune cells from autoimmune and cancer cohorts.

A month earlier, Immunai completed a $60 million Series A round whose proceeds were intended to expand Immunai’s genomics capabilities from the observational to the functional, including reprogramming immune cells as well as prioritizing and validating targets.

“We want to keep growing and we want to do more partnerships and be able to support more of the sequencing and in vitro validation work that we’ve been doing, so that was the main reason for the financing,” Solomon added.