Nearly one year ago, biotech startup IFM Therapeutics sold some of its assets to Bristol-Myers Squibb for $300 million. But IFM’s founders stuck around to try to capitalize on the startup’s remaining research. They’ve formed a Boston business, IFM Tre, that has just raised $31 million to fund some of that work.
The cash comes from Atlas Venture, Abingworth, Bristol (NYSE: BMY), and IFM’s management. Atlas and Abingworth were among the financial backers of Cambridge, MA-based IFM Therapeutics, which Bristol acquired last year in an unusual deal. Bristol bought IFM’s experimental cancer drugs in the buyout, along with an option to pick up certain rights to the company’s other work. IFM, meanwhile, was free to spin out research it had been doing on inflammatory and other diseases. Some of that research has taken shape at IFM Tre. The rest is housed in an entity, IFM Therapeutics LLC, that could form other startups like IFM Tre.
IFM Tre is focused exclusively on drugs that block NLRP3, a complex of proteins that plays a role in inflammatory responses. NLRP3 normally activates a protective immune response, the company says. But sometimes that response is kicked off abnormally, potentially driving metabolic disorders, fibrosis, autoimmune conditions, and neurodegenerative diseases.
IFM Tre has three experimental drugs, with the first expected to begin human testing in 2019. The three programs are small molecules that each suppress the NLRP3 pathway differently, the company says. These are each targeted drugs, only meant to impact NLRP3 and leave other immune pathways free to respond to threats. IFM Tre’s lead drug candidate works systemically in the body. A second compound works in the gut and could treat inflammatory bowel disease. The third compound is being studied as a potential treatment for neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease.
IFM Tre isn’t the only company researching drugs that target NLRP3. Cambridge, U.K.-based NodThera raised $40 million in a Series A round of financing last month to support its development of small molecule drugs to treat diseases related to chronic inflammation. Sofinnova Partners and 5AM Ventures co-led that investment round.
IFM Tre is led by the same team that sold IFM: ex-Lycera CEO Gary Glick and former Novartis dealmaker H. Martin Seidel. Before selling IFM, Glick formed immunotherapy startup Lycera in 2006. Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) inked an option to buy the firm in 2015.