2018 NEVYs Nominee Spotlight: IFM Therapeutics

The NEVCA is proud to share the stories of our 2018 NEVY Awards nominees through their own words. Hear their experiences of success, failure, and everything in between — most importantly, what has driven them forward to build and grow their vision, starting with the very first spark of inspiration.

The Sandwich, the Spark and the Spinout: The Story of IFM Therapeutics

The Sandwich

Just a few years ago, the idea of IFM Therapeutics, LLC was as distant as a particle of space dust floating in a galaxy far, far away. The year was 2015, and it all started with the IFM CEO and co-founder, Dr. Gary D. Glick. Already recognized for his entrepreneurial prowess, Glick had just transitioned on from his leadership role at Lycera, a company he founded, which had just closed a $100-million deal with Celgene. Glick was back to his day-to-day activities as the Bachmann Collegiate Professor of Chemistry at the University of Michigan, a post which he still holds to this day. For most, serving as full-time professor and running a research lab would be more than enough to keep busy. But Glick still had a little extra time on his hands…and a lot of motivation.

While in Boston, Gary was casually chatting over a sandwich with Jean-Francois Formela at Atlas Venture. Formela, who has been a Partner at Atlas Venture since 1993, was interested in hearing more about Glick’s next steps, and Gary mentioned a new type of immune system research that he had been thinking about. Before he knew it, they had seeded a company.

The Spark

Once the company was seeded, the vision began to come to fruition. There’s no “I” in team — and that statement holds extreme value to our company. As we know, collecting a team of experienced and talented scientists is a key ingredient to sparking success for early startup companies. In the late summer of 2015, Glick and the Atlas Venture team snatched up scientific co-founders such as Luigi Franchi and Anthony Opipari. Both co-founders are “Italians From Michigan”, hence the name IFM. Top researchers in innate immune research from the University of Bonn, Germany, Matthias Geyer and Eicke Latz, quickly followed. After establishing a strong co-founding team, Glick built a great R&D team, recruiting Bill Roush as a chemistry lead and Martin Seidel as EVP of R&D. These leaders, along with a world-renowned Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board, truly represent some of the finest minds in innate immune system science and drug development. IFM’s dedicated team of veteran entrepreneurs, researchers, and scientific and clinical advisors have turned IFM from a small biotech startup to one of the leading Boston-based biotechnology companies in just two years.

The innate immune system holds great potential, but it has been difficult for scientists to harness in the past. Fortunately, Glick and his all-star team followed and contributed to the emerging data behind targeting the innate immune system for autoimmunity and cancer, and they’re striking while it’s hot.

Activating the innate immune system produces the first inflammatory “spark” that makes the whole system hot, and in the case of immuno-oncology therapies such as checkpoint inhibitors, this pre-existing “spark” is required to make other existing IO therapies, such as checkpoint inhibitors, work. This is because those therapies only work by targeting the adaptive immune system.

On the flip side, in inflammation and autoimmune diseases, IFM’s inhibitors work by blocking specific proteins in the innate immune system. IFM’s researchers are developing antagonists that can potentially prevent the spark rather than put out the fire, upstream of current treatments that douse the immune system and leave bodies defenseless against bacteria and pathogens.

The IFM Therapeutics team.

The Spinout

As the company formalized its leadership team and advanced its first two immuno-oncology programs targeting the innate immune system, their accomplishments garnered interest from Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS). Of the many interested partners, BMS was the best fit as they are uniquely positioned to accelerate IFM’s programs due to their deep expertise and leadership positions in immunology, oncology, and immuno-oncology.

The IFM-BMS deal was not like other deals, and served as a testament to the work of the scientists at IFM. Upon BMS acquiring the two immuno-oncology programs, NRLP3 and STING agonists, IFM spun-out as an LLC to continue exploring how to modulate new pathways to treat chronic inflammation and autoimmune disorders. The innovative deal structure allows IFM scientists to continue doing what they do best — expanding our understanding of the innate immune system to help bring new treatments to patients.

Every nominee is a winner in our eyes, but be sure to nab your NEVYs tickets now — and bring your team — to see who takes home the ultimate prize.

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