Early-stage biotechnology company Infinimmune, which is developing novel techniques for antibody drug discovery and development, announced that it has closed a $12-million seed round led by Playground Global, with participation from Pear VC, Civilization Ventures, and Axial VC and support from Ron Alfa, Jacob Becraft, Paul Conley, and Joshua Meier.
“Our vision for Infinimmune is to bring truly human antibodies from your human immune system or mine to other patients for a variety of diseases,” Wyatt McDonnell, CEO and co-founder of Infinimmune, told GEN Edge.
“We think that the current state of the industry has more than proven the value of antibody-based drugs. However, the small number of drugs and targets for those drugs shows that new ways of finding and developing drugs are needed.”
The founding members of Infinimmune came together to tackle significant unresolved issues in antibody-based therapeutics. McDonnell and co-founders Katie Pfeiffer, Mike Gibbons, Lance Hepler, and David Jaffe have led development teams at 10x Genomics, Pacific Biosciences, and the Broad Institute. The founding team believes it is in a strong position to capitalize on the explosion of single-cell technology, utilize large datasets and sample cohorts, build and combine new technology, find new targets, and produce new classes of secure and efficient antibody drugs.
“We made an investment in companies that were trying to solve some of the issues with different antibody formats, and I think [McDonell] and his team had proposed a method to be able to generate data on human antibodies of a type and at a scale that no one else had made plausible, with the combination of technologies that they were proposing to implement,” said Jory Bell, general partner of the venture capital company Playground Global.
“I look forward to when Infinimmune has more to say because the vision that they have for truly human anti-antibody development is a really big one. They’re at an early stage, but I think it will make a big impact.”
100 billion clinical trials every day
Infinimmune’s founders contend that human-produced antibodies will outperform those produced by other organisms and scientific advancements as drug candidates. McDonnell claims that a person’s body contains hundreds of billions of B lymphocytes at any given time, although not all of them are visible through peripheral blood sampling because some are buried in the bone marrow and other tissues. Every human body performs about 100 billion preclinical antibody tests daily, which is fascinating to us,” said McDonnell. “We believe that process produces molecules that are simultaneously intrinsically tested for safety and efficacy. We want to use this process to find, study, and make therapeutic drugs out of protective antibodies.”
Additionally, Infinimmune has made it clear that antigen-neutral strategies are of interest, especially in light of the surprisingly limited number of targets for approved antibody drugs. According to McDonnell, another parallel R&D stream for the company is “actively ‘deorphaning’ interesting antibodies coming from memory and plasma B cells—the source of molecules that are active in immune memory—and finding out what they do bind using other technologies in cases where we haven’t conducted a deep spearfishing campaign against a particularly compelling target.”
As a very early-stage preclinical company, Infinimmune is primarily focused on growing its research capabilities and advisory network to select a pair of indications for assets that are currently being identified internally. Although the company’s founders are drawn to high-impact fields like infectious disease, autoimmune disease, and immuno-oncology, where they believe they can quickly and broadly make a difference, McDonnell said that they are also excited to collaborate with people who see a role for auto-antibody mediated disease and B cell-mediated protection in their favorite indication.
“We feel we have a role to fill as a partner with access to excellent technology to explore some basic biology as well,” said McDonnell. “We recognize that there’s a lot of work to do here and that we’ve bit off a small piece of a very long and difficult problem for many companies.”
McDonnell said that the main purpose of this initial funding round is to enable Infinimmune to advance towards some R&D milestones, start filling their pipeline, and make sure that they have a backstop available so that the company can evaluate some potentially valuable business development partnerships.
“A compelling antibody biotechnology company needs more than one kind of milestone these days,” said McDonnell. “We wanted to ensure that we were financially prepared to undertake that journey responsibly.”