The stock market correction that has devastated listed biotech companies for a year does not mean that funding has dried up. But the liquidity to be placed should rather be sought in private circuits. And there, the oncology sector, with its increasingly innovative biotherapies, continues to whet the appetite of investors. Witness the French biotech ImCheck Therapeutics, which develops biomedicines against cancer.
“We have just completed the largest fundraising campaign ever conducted in France by a privately held biotech with a therapeutic target – as opposed to non-therapeutic biotech companies, such as DNA Script, for example – and now have the funds to develop our candidate biotech. medicines until 2026″, announces Pierre d’Epenouxpresident of ImCheck Therapeutics.
A dozen shareholder funds
ImCheck raised 96 million euros, including $80 million in “Series C” (a private equity rating designating more mature corporate equity financing than Series A and B) through a seed round co-led by Earlybird Funds and Andera Partners. The balance is a “series B” which is converted into a “series C” when raised. This brings the total retrieved by ImCheck to 154 million since its inception in 2015† In addition to the founders, there are now a dozen shareholder funds in the capital, the three largest of which are Kurma Partners, Pfizer Ventures and Bpifrance.
In comparison, since the beginning of the year, all listed French biotech companies have raised only 338 million, according to the Biotech Bourse site. And again: only a fifth of this amount comes from an IPO or a capital increase, compared to an average of 62% over 2015-2021. Since the stock market correction that started in June 2021, publicly traded biotech companies have lost 50% of their value and their new money comes from debt, divestments or partnerships. So, the biggest fundraiser of the year at this stage is a $47 million payment to Innate, linked to a partnership with AstraZeneca.
New generation of antibodies
Co-founded by Benjamin Charles, Daniel Olive and Alem Truneh, ImCheck is a spin-off of the Paoli-Calmettes Institute (IPC) in Marseille, one of the most important European centers in the field of cancer. The company was founded to take advantage of IPC professor Daniel Olive’s research into a new generation of immunotherapy antibodies that fight cancer, as well as autoimmune and infectious diseases.
Until now, cancer immunotherapy has targeted certain white blood cells, the alpha-beta T lymphocytes. This is the case with a current flagship against cancer, Keytruda ($17 billion in sales last year) from Merck MSD. But that doesn’t always work. Therefore, ImCheck focuses on a different type of immune cell, gamma-delta lymphocytes, for alternative or complementary immunotherapy.
Financing will be discussed again in 2025
Its most advanced drug candidate (the molecule codenamed ICT01) is thus being tested alone and in combination with Keytruda. It is starting Phase 2A of its clinical trials and is targeting a Phase 2B or “pivotal trial” in early 2025 for, at best, a marketing application in 2028.
Until then, from 2025, the funding question will rise. Last year, as we prepared for the current fundraiser (which ImCheck values at an undisclosed amount), “we were thinking of a Nasdaq listing. With a proper valuation of the company, we could have raised $200-300 million there. We ruled it out when the market started to deteriorate in mid-May 2021, recalls Pierre d’Epenoux. Private financing, IPO or sale of the company, for the future, anything is possible.”