- Immunai raises $60 million to expand functional genomics.
- Microsoft and start-up Adaptive Biotechnologies are also working together to develop algorithms
- Immunai attempts to avoid errors with AI-generating immune profiles.
Immunai, a start-up that creates an AI platform to study the human immune system. Today it reported that $60 million has been raised. The company says it will use the funds to expand its expertise in functional genomics. It will help prioritize, find, and create new treatments and drug formulations for its partners.
Emerging treatments such as gene cell therapies and immunotherapies for cancer promise to revolutionize the medical field. But the complexity of the immune system, trillions of cells divided into hundreds of kinds and states that interact with different systems and proteins, continues to stymie science. In 1999, after an immune system attack possibly arising from preexisting antibodies against a virus used as part of gene therapy, a patient in a trial died, a death that researchers believe contributed to years of loss in the advancement of gene therapy. Immunai attempts to avoid such errors with AI-generating immune profiles.
Noam Solomon, a former Harvard and MIT postdoctoral researcher, and Luis Voloch, an MIT graduate and former machine learning engineer at Palantir, founded Immunai in 2018. To pursue a forum that sheds light on post- and pre-treatment cell populations, the two partnered up with members of the Parker Institute. It works with researchers to promote the production of immune therapies.
“I was a math postdoc at MIT when I met my co-founder, Luis, and Luis was working on applying machine learning to biology. Together, we decided to put AI methods of ‘transfer learning’ to what we think would solve the biggest challenge in today’s society—illness,” Solomon told VentureBeat via email. “It is possible to trace all diseases back to the immune system. But what Luis and I discovered is that there is no detailed, granular insight into how the immune system acts, how it reacts to the medications or treatments they are creating, and what patients are most likely to gain from pharmaceutical companies.
Immunai’s technology records information from a blood sample over a terabyte, profiling cells at what the company describes as “unprecedented” depth.
It is an approach close to that of scientists associated with the Human Vaccines Project. They are working to recognize biomarkers that predict immune responses to vaccines and cell therapies. The indicators of specific disease states. Microsoft and start-up Adaptive Biotechnologies are also working together to develop algorithms. They’re creating a ‘translation map’ for antigens or pathogen molecules. It activates an immune response, for cell receptors and maps those antigens back to diseases.
Traditionally, clinical trials have concentrated on evaluating thousands of subjects. And, obtaining a small number of data on each of them. “In almost every illness, the immune system is involved, making our technology critical for disease identification, diagnosis, and treatment, from cancer to autoimmune disorders,” Solomon said in a statement. “Our expansion into functional genomics will help our partners address their most pressing therapy development issues and eventually improve the lives of many patients.”
Working with commercial partners
The immune profiles of Immunai could promote biomarker discovery by spotting changes in the form and expression of cells. A CAR-Natural Killer T (NKT) infusion cell therapy product developed at Baylor College of Medicine for use in patients with neuroblastoma was characterized by the Immunai team. Baylor researchers and Immunai have identified, and are working to confirm, a gene potentially involved in CAR-NKT-mediated tumor cell killing. Elsewhere, Immunai claims that it is working with commercial partners to develop candidates for cell therapy for solid tumors.
In addition to organizations such as Stanford, Harvard, Memorial Sloan Kettering, and the University of Pennsylvania. Immunai partners with 5 of the world’s largest pharma firms. “By mining AMICA, our proprietary harmonized single-cell immunology database. With cutting-edge transfer and multi-task learning algorithms, we have developed a novel platform to reprogram immunity,” he said. “Our vertically integrated capabilities in functional genomics and AI allow us to more accurately prioritize and validate targets.”
Headquartered in New York City, Seventy-Employee Immunai has offices in San Francisco and Tel Aviv. The Schusterman Foundation, the Duquesne Family, Catalio Capital Management, and Dexcel Pharma led the Series A round announced today. Also involved were current investors Viola Ventures and TLV Partners. This will take the total raised to $80 million by Immunai to date.