Immunai came out of stealth mode Thursday with two things: a mission to map the entire immune system and its functions using machine learning, and a capital infusion of $20 million in seed funding.
Subscribe to the Crunchbase Daily
Two Israeli investment firms, Viola Group and TLV Partners, led the seed round for the New York City-based company that is building the largest proprietary data set in the world for clinical immunological data for better detection, diagnosis and treatment of disease. By leveraging single-cell technologies and machine-learning algorithms, Immunai has mapped out millions of immune cells and their functions, Immunai CEO Noam Solomon told Crunchbase News.
Over the last several years, cell therapies and cancer immunotherapies have become the latest innovation in treatment options. Immunotherapy uses the body’s immune system to target and destroy cancer cells.
Cancers, such as melanoma and lung cancer, have responded well to immunotherapy drugs, also known as immune checkpoint inhibitors. However, the immune system is complex and it is not yet known how drugs affect immune cells. And for costly cell therapies, a slight variation in cell therapy products can have a significant influence on a patient’s response to the therapy, Solomon said.
“Drugs that improve immune response to cancer are transformational for some patients, but don’t work in 50 (percent) to 70 percent of other patients,” he said. “We are trying to understand what therapies work—when they work—by measuring the immune system at high resolutions. We can then use those insights to improve the design of combination therapies.”
Immunai leverages single-cell technologies to profile cells from a blood sample. Its proprietary database then uses machine-learning algorithms to map the hundreds of cell types and their states to create an immune profile. That profile is then used to support biomarker discovery and insights that identify how a cell responds to its changing environment.
Solomon and Immunai CTO Luis Voloch founded the company in January 2019, and were later joined by cancer immunology scientist Ansu Satpathy, and data scientist Danny Wells, a member of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.
The company has offices in San Francisco and Tel Aviv, Israel, and has already established clinical partnerships with 10 medical centers, as well as multiple commercial partnerships for cell therapy and checkpoint blockade with biopharma companies.
Immunai closed on the new round of funding three months ago and will use it to further the development of its technology and business functions while expanding its team of scientists, engineers and machine-learning experts, Solomon said.
“We have closed a substantial contract with a Fortune 100 company and will sign a few others in the next few weeks,” he said. “We are providing partnership models with hospitals, academia, biotech and biopharma partners with a goal of finding biomarkers for resistance and toxicity for drugs and to help partners accelerate the FDA approval of their drugs.”
Illustration: Li-Anne Dias