The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is investing up to $40m in UK-based biotech Immunocore Ltd. for the discovery and development of soluble T-cell receptor therapies for tuberculosis (TB) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Immunocore said the collaboration is part of the company's ongoing initiative to apply its soluble TCR-based drugs to areas outside of oncology, including infectious diseases and autoimmune diseases.
Immunocore has previously published preclinical data for its ImmTAV molecules that showed these compounds can redirect the immune system to kill HIV-infected cells in patients treated with antiretroviral therapy, thus facilitating clearance of reactivated latently infected HIV reservoir cells.
The company told Scrip, "Antiretroviral drugs are good at keeping the HIV virus in check, but the persistence of HIV in a 'dormant' state in the body in CD4+ cells is a major barrier to the total eradication of the virus. Any technology able to achieve this would represent a significant step forwards in the direction of eliminating HIV."
Immunocore specializes in the development of cancer therapies and infectious disease clinical research will be a new avenue for the firm.
The company's lead compound IMCgp100 is in Phase III trials as a treatment for uveal melanoma; the product is also in late-stage trials for cutaneous melanoma in combination with various checkpoint inhibitors from AstraZeneca PLC. The growing UK firm also has cancer collaborations with Eli Lilly & Co., GlaxoSmithKline PLC and Genentech Inc.
Using its TCR technology with the same principle as it has been used in cancer, Immunocore will generate new potential molecules in HIV and initiate work also in TB. The money from the Gates Foundation will be used to expand Immunocore’s research group in infectious diseases. The company believes research compounds for HIV and TB could be in the clinic by the end of this decade.
The Gates Foundation's investment in Immunocore is part of its program-related investments (PRI) strategy, which aims to stimulate private sector-driven innovation. The foundation uses these investments to "encourage market driven efficiencies and attract external capital to priority global health and development initiatives that improve the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people."
The organization told Scrip its PRI team has made "investments of various amounts into a variety of partners that are aiming to produce technologies/platforms or accomplish goals that align with our programmatic and charitable objectives aimed at helping all people lead healthy, productive lives."
The group has previously committed funds to Intarcia Therapeutics Inc., Kymab Ltd. and Anacor Pharmaceuticals Inc., as well as many more life science firms and educational and development companies.
Unmet Needs In TB, HIV
According to data from the Gates Foundation, TB remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide. The non-profit organization is focused on the development of shorter, simpler treatment regimens for TB because patients who do not complete their treatment as prescribed are likely to continue to transmit TB to others and may develop drug-resistant strains that can take up to two years to treat with more expensive, second-line drugs.
There are limited options in development for the treatment of TB. According to data from Biomedtracker there are only two candidates in Phase III clinical studies: pretomanid, a nitroimidazole (a class of broadly anti-infective agents), from Novartis AG and the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development; and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd.'sDeltyba (delamanid), a novel mycolic acid biosynthesis inhibitor active against Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Delamanid is marketed already in low- and middle-income countries by Otsuka and Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc.Meanwhile, there are six drugs in Phase II trials for TB and three candidates in Phase I studies.
The HIV pipeline tells a similar story, with only one compound in Phase III and a handful of candidates in Phase I and II studies. Nearly 37 million people have died from HIV-related complications since the 1980s. Sub-Saharan Africa is the hardest-hit region, with an estimated 1.2 million new infections per year.
The Gates Foundation aims to "accelerate the decline in HIV infection worldwide and save lives by ensuring expanded and simplified HIV treatment and improved and effective use of interventions to prevent new infections.