Immunai said the new funding will allow it to expand its genomics capabilities from the observational to the functional, including reprogramming immune cells as well as prioritizing and validating targets. [Immunai]
Immunai recently announced a $60-million Series A financing that it says will enable its expansion into functional genomics, with the goal of improving how it integrates artificial intelligence (AI) and single-cell multi-omics at scale to help its biopharma and healthcare partners better detect, diagnose, and treat disease.

From its founding in December 2018, Immunai has focused on mapping the entire immune system, given the increased recognition of immune cells as key players in nearly every illness. The company has applied multi-omic single-cell technologies and machine learning to better understand how the immune system operates, then share these insights with partners that include biopharma companies, healthcare providers, and academic researchers.

Immunai said the new funding will allow it to expand its genomics capabilities from the observational to the functional, including reprogramming immune cells as well as prioritizing and validating targets. Through functional genomics, Immunai plans to glean insights into gene and protein expression and function, genome-wide or system-wide, which will guide the development of new therapies and drug combinations.

To carry out the reprogramming, Immunai plans to mine its proprietary Annotated Multi-omic Immune Cell Atlas (AMICATM), the company’s harmonized single-cell immunology database, with advanced transfer and multi-task learning algorithms.

AMICA is a downloadable database of annotated multi-omic immune cells that includes information about gene expression, proteins, T-cell and B-cell receptors for immune cells, clinical and/or lab data, and a downloadable artificial intelligence software platform designed for characterizing and analyzing immune cells, as well as analyzing the immune system.

Immunai says AMICA is the world’s largest proprietary multi-omic immune cell atlas.

“This expanded platform is enabling us to work with more types of partners and offer, I think, a greater value add to the partners. So if we thought it was more in the development phase, now it also extends [back] to the discovery phase,” Noam Solomon, PhD, CEO and Co-founder of Immunai, told GEN.

“In the past two years, we’ve been building our platform that has measured tens of millions of immune cells, clinically annotated. And, we have started seeing some really important clinical and translational insights,” Solomon said. “The idea in expanding into functional genomics is actually validating the hypotheses based on those insights. The functional aspects of the platform is the ability to not only observe things but also validate them in vitro and in vivo.”

Correlative and Causal Insights

Functional genomics allows not only correlative insights into how the individual components of a biological system work together to produce a particular phenotype, but causal insights as well, explained Luis Voloch, PhD, Immunai’s Chief Technology Officer: “It allows you to sort of perturb the biology and measure its outputs, which allows us to extend our computational capabilities, and the kinds of analyses we can do.”

Mark Jacobstein, Chief Business Officer of Immunai

Added Mark Jacobstein, Immunai’s Chief Business Officer: “What we believe will happen here with our platform is that the ability to develop better therapies that are involved with reprogramming your immune response to disease will be driven by advances that come out of the database, as opposed to happenstance in the lab. We think this will accelerate the development of therapies by orders of magnitude.”

Immunai says its end-to-end computational AI pipeline, customized for single-cell methods, allows researchers at cell therapy developers and other biopharmas to better understand how immune cells operate with both granularity and scale.

Headquartered in New York City, with offices in San Francisco and Tel Aviv, Immunai has grown to about 70 people between all three locations.

“We want to double in size in the next six to nine months,” Solomon said. “At least 75-80% of the team are R&D, both computational and wet lab, and they’re between Tel Aviv, New York, and San Francisco.”

He said the New York and Tel Aviv sites are about equal in size and larger than San Francisco, but that New York will see a slight expansion as Immunai grows.

“We have an amazing business team led by Mark [Jacobstein], but most of the people are in R&D, and the growth and the financing will definitely go to hire great talent and expand all the personnel that we need,” Solomon added.

Since its inception, Immunai has established collaborations with several top-tier academic institutions, which include Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, University of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Baylor College of Medicine. The company has also launched numerous partnerships with undisclosed Fortune 100 pharmaceutical companies, which it declines to discuss publicly due to confidentiality agreements.

Holistic Approach

Immunai does say, however, that its biopharma partners have grown beyond cancer immunotherapy developers, to include developers of drugs for conditions in autoimmunity and other therapeutic areas.

“The approach that we have in the platform that we are building is disease agnostic. Luis and I discovered, even before founding the company, that when you study the immune system as one holistic system, and you’re trying to study autoimmunity and cancer, you’re able to figure out more of the picture than just by looking at one aspect,” Solomon said.

Within Immunai’s database is data on patients with different cancer indications, autoimmune indications, Alzheimer’s disease, COVID-19, as well as healthy people.

“There are similarities and differences between different types of cancer indications, between melanoma and psoriasis, or between colorectal cancer and IBD [inflammatory bowel disease],” he added. “And our platform and building AMICA is enabling us to then data mine across the board, different indications, different therapies. So, autoimmunity is definitely part of this and it’s not just autoimmunity Everything involving inflammation, we care about. Everything with inflammation is ready to Immunai.”

In a commentary published last June in Forbes, Voloch said Immunai’s interest in everything inflammation-related included one disorder that has long frustrated drug developers and researchers.

“There’s the possibility of using what we learn about how immune cells respond to cancer to better understand conditions such as Alzheimer’s,” Voloch wrote. “By developing predictive models for immune function in one disease, we can readily apply what we’ve learned to other diseases. It’s an idea that’s long been talked about, but one that may only be possible now that we can apply [AI] to the challenge.”

For Immunai’s multiple partnerships that start with improving clinical trial design and development of therapeutic candidates, Solomon said: “Functional genomics is able to not only predict certain aspects of response and resistance to therapies, and explain and interpret the mechanism of resistance, but also to conjecture, what is the next target for new drugs? We then validate them in our lab. We help our partners by suggesting, what are the right targets to pursue, and then have [partners] validate them.”

Mapping Partnership

Immunai’s growing focus on functional genomics does not signal the end of efforts focused on cell mapping. In December, the company agreed to combine its proprietary AI and machine learning algorithms with 10x Genomics’ single-cell technologies to map the hundreds of cell types and states within the immune system. The collaboration, of undisclosed value, aims to help biopharmas uncover biomarkers and generate insights to distill the data into meaningful and clinically relevant information, using data analysis and computational tools many now lack.

Immunai has also partnered with Baylor to study natural killer T (NKT) cells that can be genetically engineered into immunotherapies targeting solid tumors and other cancers.

In October, researchers from Immunai, Baylor, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill presented interim data in Nature Medicine from the ongoing, Baylor-sponsored Phase I GINAKIT2 trial (NCT03294954) evaluating genetically modified human NKT cells with a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) that enabled them to recognize and attack neuroblastoma. Expressed with the CAR was interleukin-15 (IL-15), which supports NKT cell survival. The study showed the modified cells were safe, localized to tumors, and induced an objective response in one of three patients with regression of bone metastatic lesions.

The NKT platform has been licensed to Kuur Therapeutics, which is using it to develop KUR-501, a GD2-CAR NKT autologous product for the treatment of neuroblastoma. Last month, Kuur announced additional positive data from GINAKIT2 showing that of 10 evaluable patients and with escalation to a dose level of 1×108 cells/m2, one patient showed complete response, one a partial response, and three showed stable disease (SD).

The Series A financing round was led by Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies (formerly the Schusterman Foundation), Duquesne Family Office, Catalio Capital Management, and Dexcel Pharma, with additional participation from two existing investors Viola Ventures and TLV Partners. Viola and TLV led Immunai’s $20 million in seed funding, completed in May 2020.

Solomon said Immunai was pleased and fortunate to count among its Series A investors two family-established organizations: “They share the vision that we have, which is a larger vision. We’re not trying to do something quick here. It’s a 7-10-year vision to figure out the data-driven way to find new targets, and hopefully kill some diseases.”

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