The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is investing up to $40 million in Immunocore to support development of the company’s soluble TCR (T-cell receptor)-based ImmTAV® (immune mobilizing monoclonal TCRs against virus) and ImmTAB® (immune mobilizing monoclonal TCRs against bacteria) therapeutics for infectious diseases that represent global health challenges. The organizations will focus on the development of ImmTav and ImmTAB molecules for treating tuberculosis (TB) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which have the potential to reduce treatment timelines and improve patient outcomes.
Namir Hassan, Ph.D., vp of the infectious disease unit at Immunocore, commented, “We believe the immune system harbors the capacity to resolve problematic infectious diseases, and our TCR-based therapies are well placed to mobilize this process. Our purpose in the Immunocore infectious disease unit is to revolutionize treatments for diseases such as hepatitis B, tuberculosis, and HIV and provide affordable medicines globally, including in the developing world. This collaboration will be critical to this initiative.”
The investment in Immunocore is being made as part of The Gates Foundation’s program-related investments (PRI) strategy, which aims to stimulate private sector–driven innovation and attract external capital to global health and development initiatives that could improve the lives of vulnerable populations.
Chris Karp, M.D., director of discovery & translational sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, noted, “The Foundation is committed to supporting and translating scientific research that can have a transformative impact on those conditions that cause the greatest burden of morbidity and mortality in the world at large. We are excited to support the development of Immunocore's TCR-based platform because we believe these treatments have the potential to make a fundamental difference in the lives of patients infected with TB and HIV.”
The collaboration with the Gates Foundation also represents part of a larger Immunocore initiative to exploit the TCR-based therapeutics platform in nononcology areas, including infectious diseases and autoimmune disorders. Preclinical data published last year demonstrated the potential for ImmTAV molecules to redirect the immune system to kill HIV-infected cells from patients treated using antiretrovial therapy, as an approach to clearing reactivated, latently infected HIV reservoir cells.
U.K.-based Immunocore claims its platform of TCR-based soluble, synthetic bifunctional drugs can address both intracellular and extracellular targets. Lead ImmTAC® programs for cancer therapy are designed to trigger the patient’s own immune system to attack and kill cancer cells.
The firm’s most advanced ImmTAC candidate, MICgp100, targets the melanoma-associated antigen gp100, and is being evaluated in a pivotal study as monotherapy for uveal melanoma, an indication for which the drug has been granted FDA orphan drug designation. The firm says the study builds on the first demonstration of single-agent efficacy against a solid, “cold,” low-mutation tumor, which represents a challenge for existing immune-oncology agents.
MICgp100 is separately undergoing a Phase I/II trial in partnership with AstraZeneca for treating metastatic cutaneous melanoma as part of combination therapy with the checkpoint inhibitors durvalumab and tremelimumab. Immunocore also has an immunotherapy-based clinical trial collaboration with Lilly to evaluate IMCgp100 in combination with Lilly’s merestinib (LY2801653) for the treatment of metastatic uveal melanoma.
In July, Immunocore announced that partner GlaxoSmithKline had selected a third target as part of the firms’ ongoing cancer discovery collaboration, which aims to develop ImmTAC molecules against targets that can’t be addressed using antibody-based technologies.