Immunotherapy and Cancer: Cutting Edge Science to Address a Devastating Disease
Many individuals and families have been devastated by cancer – it is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million lost lives in 2020 alone.1 Well aware of these statistics when faced with a life-threatening diagnosis, cancer patients go to great lengths to seek treatment based on state-of-the-art science. Some turn to Medical Excellence Group, first to help research best practices, secondly to gain access to top providers, and finally, to help them professionally organize their cancer care. Medical Excellence Group is a private health advisory firm founded in 2008 by Medical Excellence Capital partner, John Prufeta. Medical Excellence Group has been helping patients and families here in the U.S. and abroad organize their cancer fight for nearly 15 years. In fact, over 1,000 individuals with cancer or other complex medical issues have been served. This is accomplished via the firm’s network of over 1,200 physicians across 33 academic medical centers.
Immunotherapy is a rapidly growing field of cancer therapy that holds great promise. It is increasingly used as a weapon to fight cancer for patients under Medical Excellence Groups’ care and beyond. This form of therapy is designed to use the body’s immune system to detect and destroy abnormal cells and to prevent the growth of cancers. There are various types of immunotherapies, each with unique attributes. For instance, three of the more widely studied classes of immunotherapy are:2
- Immune checkpoint inhibitors: drugs designed to block so-called immune checkpoints whose role under normal conditions is to turn down or “apply the brakes” to the immune system. Tumors have been shown to utilize such checkpoints to turn down and thereby evade attack by the patient’s immune system. By blocking these “brakes”, checkpoint inhibitors allow immune cells to respond more strongly to cancer.
- Cell therapy: the isolation of immune cells from a patient, manipulation of those cells in a lab to increase their ability to recognize and destroy tumor cells, and re-introduction of the manipulated cells back into the patient. Common forms of cell therapy include: Tumor-Infiltrating Lymphocyte Therapy (TIL), Engineered T Cell Receptor Therapy (TCR), Chimeric Antigen Receptor T Cell Therapy (CAR-T), and Natural Killer Cell Therapy (NK).
- Vaccines: administered in an attempt to train the patients’ immune system to attack that patient’s specific cancer.
Immunitas: A Unique Approach to Develop Novel Immunotherapies
Founded in 2019, Immunitas Therapeutics has developed a discovery platform capable of deeply analyzing each and every cell found in a given tissue sample across multiple dimensions. They have turned this platform toward cancer and are using it to discover and develop novel immunotherapies. Their process begins with the isolation of individual cells from fresh tumor tissue taken from cancer patients. These cells are then analyzed across multiple parameters (e.g., DNA sequence, gene expression, cell surface marker expression, etc.). With the aid of sophisticated analytical tools, Immunitas can ask and answer questions that have the potential to lead to novel immunotherapeutic approaches. For instance, Immunitas’ first drug was born from asking the question: “what genes are uniquely expressed in those T and NK cells found at the tumor site that also expressed markers indicating that they are capable of recognizing tumor cells?” The answer to this question led to the discovery of a novel checkpoint that was expressed in these cells, presumably preventing them from killing, despite being able to recognize tumor cells. Blocking this checkpoint in cellular and animal models “released the brakes” on these T and NK cells, empowering tumor destruction and regression. Immunitas has developed an inhibitor against this novel target, and it is expected to enter clinical trials in 2022.
In August 2021, Immunitas announced the completion of a $58 million Series B financing led by Agent Capital, with participation from Medical Excellence Capital (MEC), 120 Capital, Solasta Ventures, Mirae Asset, Ono Venture Investment, The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research, NS Investment, BrightEdge (American Cancer Society), and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Therapy Acceleration Program® (LLS TAP). Existing investors Alexandria Venture Investments, Evotec, Leaps by Bayer, M Ventures, Novartis Venture Fund (NVF), and founding investor Longwood Fund also joined in the round. This syndicate of strategic industry players and venture capital firms demonstrates the continued deep interest from pharmaceutical companies and crossover investors in the immuno-oncology space.
MEC’s platform, including our relationship with Medical Excellence Group, will be harnessed to help Immunitas expand its network, further fueling its discovery engine. We believe Immunitas is well-positioned to discover additional immunotherapies designed to fight cancer. We are excited to partner with the Immunitas team on their journey to tackle challenging, complex cancers for patients.
1WHO Fact Sheet
The contents herein contain a description of an investment made by MEC. References to any investment included herein should not be construed as a recommendation of any particular investment or security. It should not be assumed that investments made in the future will be comparable in quality or performance to the investment described herein.