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Blood disorder specialists Imara raises $63m

Arix Biosciences claims a 10% stake in the biotech

Imara

US biotech Imara has just closed a $63m series B financing round to further develop therapeutics for the treatment of blood disorders.

The company said the investment is reserved for its orally administered sickle cell disease (SCD) candidate known as IMR-687.

SCD is a genetically inherited condition that produces abnormally shaped red blood cells causing the blockage of blood vessels, which can lead to repeated episodes of vaso-occlusive crisis (VOC), acute chest syndrome and damage to other organs including the liver, spleen, kidney and the brain.

The Cambridge, Mass-based company is joining an increasingly crowded market of innovative therapies for hard-to-treat blood disorders such as SCD, where Novartis and gene therapy company Bluebird already have late-stage candidates. While Imara's candidate is unlikely to provide a cure for the condition, as Bluebird is aiming to, its convenient oral formulation and a likely lower upfront price could make it an attractive alternative in patients with less severe cases of the disease.

IMR-687 is a highly selective, potent small molecule inhibitor of phosphodiesterase-9 (PDE9i) which addresses the underlying cause of the condition, and the company says the drug’s dual-action mechanism of targeting both red and white blood cells make the drug highly potent.

It’s currently in a phase 2 clinical trial, but early data suggests the drug can improve health outcomes and possibly ameliorate disease pathology.

More specifically, in cell and animal models the drug has been shown to increase fetal globin, which prevents the polymerisation of the sickled haemoglobin, reducing red blood cell sickling, red blood cell death and occlusion of blood vessels.

“This is a transformative moment for Imara, as this financing allows us to accelerate clinical development for IMR-687 in SCD and expand its utility to other populations and related haematological diseases,” said the company’s chief executive Rahul Ballal (pictured below).

Rahul Ballal

The funding will also help broaden the drug’s reach, with plans to research the drug’s efficacy in beta thalassemia and other haematological conditions.

“We hope to provide patients a meaningful, but easy-to-use therapy in their fight against SCD and related disorders,” adds Ballal.

The financing was co-led by US-based OrbiMed Advisors and the Arix Bioscience, a UK life science investor, which committed $15m (£11.3m) to the company.

In return, Arix owns 10% of the company and Investment Director Mark Chin will join Imara’s board of directors.

Chin said: “Rahul and the growing executive team have impressed us with their focus on meaningful clinical development and deep engagement with the SCD community. This financing is an important milestone for Imara as it seeks to progress its treatments to patients. We are looking forward to working with the management team to build a leading company in the haemoglobinopathy space.”

Meanwhile, Bluebird Bio recently delivered some robust early-stage data from its SCD gene therapy platform LentiGlobin, with longer-term data showing that patients treated with LentiGlobin achieved stable levels of anti-sickling HbA for at least two years.

Novartis is also making waves in the area after it received an FDA breakthrough tag for crizanlizumab (SEG101), a humanised anti-P-selectin monoclonal antibody that is being developed to prevent VOCs.

A phase 2 study of that drug showed that a once-monthly dose made patients significantly less likely to have a VOC in a 12-month period compared to placebo.

Article by
Gemma Jones

18th March 2019

From: Sales

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