Merck Ventures has joined the team of investors behind Macrophage Pharma, a biotech in Windsor, UK, using macrophages against cancer.
Macrophage Pharma is a young biotech working on a new approach to boost the immune system’s ability to attack tumor cells. Its technology attracted £9M (€9.8M) in Series A earlier this year from the CRT Pioneer Fund (founder of the company), Novo Seeds and Agalaia Biomedical Ventures. Now, Merck Ventures has decided to join in, with an undisclosed amount. These additional funds will help the biotech run its first clinical trial, scheduled to start next year, and add a fourth project to the pipeline.
Macrophage Pharma’s lead program, p38MAPi, employs a macrophage-targeting p38 MAPK inhibitor. Once inside the macrophage, it inhibits the release of IL-10, a cytokine that suppresses the activity of T cells, and promotes the secretion of immunostimulatory cytokine IL-12. The inhibitor is coupled to amino acids with esterase sensitive motifs (ESM) designed to promote the accumulation and activity of the drug only inside monocytes and macrophages.
Macrophages are an attractive target in autoimmune and inflammatory disease, but their use as cancer therapeutics seems to be a fairly new approach. However, another company, US-based Macrophage Therapeutics, could compete with Macrophage Pharma in this niche. The American biotech has five preclinical oncology programs that use selective macrophage-targeting molecules.
Despite any possible competition, as Hakan Goker, Investment Director at Merck Ventures, stated this morning, Macrophage Pharma seems on a good track to make the approach work. “Macrophage Pharma impressed us with the initial data generated. The differentiated, novel approach they are following in the tumor microenvironment offers promise for the immuno-oncology armory of clinicians to address a broad range of cancers.”
Images via sciencepics / Shutterstock; Macrophage Pharma