Merck KGgA venture arm bets on ‘next generation’ cancer therapeutics player

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/simoncarter
© GettyImages/simoncarter

Related tags: checkpoint inhibitor, Merck kgaa, Immunotherapies

M Ventures, the strategic, corporate venture capital arm of Merck KGgA, continues to fund iOmx Therapeutics AG, a company developing cancer therapeutics based on next generation immune checkpoint targets.

Germany headquartered iOmx closed a Series B round today, totaling €65m (US$75.3m). The financing was co-led by Athos Service GmbH – the Strüngmann family office – and MIG Capital AG. Besides M Ventures, other existing backers that participated in the round included Wellington Partners, and Sofinnova Partners.  

iOmx was founded in 2016 based on the work done at the German Cancer Research Centre by its scientific founders, Philipp Beckhove, MD, and Nisit Khandelwal, PhD.

The biopharma company is advancing a preclinical stage pipeline of promising drug candidates that it says have the potential to address cancers that are resistant to current immunotherapies. 

"We systemically look for novel functional targets, using our proprietary iOTarg genetic screen, in clinically relevant tumor models that show poor or no response to current immune-checkpoint inhibitors, which is often the case in several cancer types. By uncovering, validating and targeting these novel immune evasion biology in tumors that lack expression or functionality of classical immune-checkpoint targets, we believe we can address the unmet medical need for many cancer patients that do not benefit from current immunotherapies,"​ a spokesperson told us. 

Depending on the individual targets and its expression coverage across different tumor types, she said the firm's pipeline programs have the potential to address several key solid tumor indications.

Funding targets 

The new funds, explained iOmx, will be invested to advance the company's lead program IMT-07, a SIK3 kinase inhibitor to treat solid tumors, through the first-in-man clinical trial, and to further develop IMT-18, a first-in-class IGSF11-targeting antibody to treat PD-1/PD-L1-resistant tumors. In addition, it said it would continue to leverage its target discovery platform, iOTarg, to advance additional novel immune checkpoint programs to lead candidate stage.

“Using our iOTarg platform, we have previously identified two novel immune-checkpoint molecules expressed by cancer cells, SIK3 and IGSF11, and shown that blocking these targets with our proprietary drug candidates has anti-tumor effects and the potential to treat tumors that cannot otherwise be addressed by existing immune therapies,”​ said Dr Apollon Papadimitriou, CEO of iOmx.

The company expects its lead program, IMT-07, to enter the clinic in late 2022.

Dr Matthias Kromayer, managing partner, MIG Capital, commented: “In the vital world of cancer immunotherapy, iOmx’s platform technology stands out because it screens for novel druggable immune checkpoint targets on tumor cells instead of T cells, thereby allowing the development of drugs that can prevent tumor immune evasion.”  

Related topics: Pipelines, Bio Developments

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