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Thousand Oaks cancer drug firm raises $9M

By   /   Friday, November 15th, 2013  /   Comments Off

Thousand Oaks-based ImmunGene, a cancer treatment firm led by a former Amgen scientist, has raised $9 million from Ally Bridge Group, an investment group with ties to Hong Kong.

ImmunGene’s so-called antibody-cytokine fusion technology could help improve the cancer-cell targeting in therapies. President and CEO Sanjay D. Khare was formerly the scientific director at Amgen, the biotech giant. Prior to the funding, ImmunGene had received several hundred thousand dollars in federal research grants.

Antibody technologies hold promise for creating cancer treatments that do less damage to healthy cells. Molecules are crafted to mimic the body’s own immune system and bind to specific defects in cancer cells.

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Thousand Oaks-based ImmunGene, a cancer treatment firm led by a former Amgen scientist, has raised $9 million from Ally Bridge Group, an investment group with ties to Hong Kong.

ImmunGene’s so-called antibody-cytokine fusion technology could help improve the cancer-cell targeting in therapies. President and CEO Sanjay D. Khare was formerly the scientific director at Amgen, the biotech giant. Prior to the funding, ImmunGene had received several hundred thousand dollars in federal research grants.

Antibody technologies hold promise for creating cancer treatments that do less damage to healthy cells. Molecules are crafted to mimic the body’s own immune system and bind to specific defects in cancer cells.

In simple terms, ImmunGene’s innovation is creating a platform that prevents antibodies from “activating” until they attach to cancer cells. That could allow doctors to increase doses to patients with fewer side effects.

“We already have human data to suggest that we can overcome dose-limiting toxicity,” Khare told the Business Times in an interview.

Earlier this year, ImmuneGene teamed up with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Valor Biotherapeutics to evaluate its leading molecule, a treatment for non-Hodgkin Lymphoma patients who do not respond to standard therapies.

While the company pursues that particular treatment, ImmunGene’s leaders also want to find out whether the firm’s platform could be used to host different antibodies to treat different types of cancer while still retaining the benefits of increased doses with fewer side effects. That is what the $9 million raised from Ally Bridge will be used to study, Khare said.

“We want to take full advantage of this technology. It may have abilities that are not unique to this tumor, and that’s what we’re going to study with this financing,” Khare said. “If we have other antibodies directed to several other types of tumors, we can test hypotheses for other tumor types.”

With the funding, according to a press release. Yu is the CEO of Ally, and Gresser was previously a member of ImmunGene’s scientific advisory board.

ImmunGene recently secured three patents on its technology. The company’s previous investments were converted into Series A preferred stock. “Ally Bridge Group is well-prepared to make additional investments in ImmunGene and is committed to assisting the company in its strategic development going forward,” Yu said in a statement.

The ImmunGene deal comes as companies with ties to Amgen are getting major investor attention in the Conejo Valley. Last year, Amgen launched an unusual spinout called Atara Biotherapeutics in Wesetlake Village. Amgen gave the company licenses to six of its drug assets, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the iconic Silicon Valley venture firm, put in funding. Across the Los Angeles County line in Calabasas, Kythera Biopharmaceuticals, a cosmetic biotech firm staffed with several former Amgen executives, raised $90 million in an initial public offering.

Brent Reinke, a corporate attorney with Musick Peeler & Garrett in Westlake Village, said the ImmunGene is a positive sign that investors see opportunists in the Conjeo Valley. He also said that infusion of capital from abroad – specifically from Asia – is likely to continue.

“The more ImmunGene situations you see, the more people get excited about this region,” Reinke said. “A lot of people who come out of Amgen have tremendous relationships with Asia. I think you’re going to see more and more of those connections and relationships with different parts of Asia.”

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