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Normunity, leveraging what the company calls a proprietary discovery platforms that elucidate the complex interactions between human cancer and the immune system, has announced its launch via a $65 million Series A funding round, led by Canaan Ventures. The company is built on the ongoing academic-biotech research in the lab of immunotherapy heavyweight Lieping Chen, MD, PhD, of the Yale School of Medicine. Chen and colleagues were the first  to clone B7-H1 (PD-L1), discovering its immune suppressive functions and demonstrating the role of the PD-1/B7-H1 pathway in the evasion of tumor immunity and has made many other key discoveries in the advancement of immuno-oncology.

The company said it is developing “immune normalizers” a new class of immuno-oncology drugs, which target novel mechanisms to free the body’s normal immunity against cancer.

“The normal immune system is a powerful anti-cancer force, and effective immune-stimulating strategies can result in long-lasting cancer remissions, even cures. Yet, today’s immunotherapies don’t capitalize on the full anti-cancer potential of the normal immune system, and most cancer patients do not respond to available treatment options. This leaves an untapped immune biology that we have begun to uncover,” said Chen, Normunity’s scientific founder in a press release announcing the launch. “Working together with Normunity, we are finding previously hidden mechanisms of tumor-dependent immune disruption and we aim to usher in a new era of drug discovery for precision immuno-oncology with medicines that normalize immune function.”

The funding will aid the new biotech to develop its pipeline targeting mechanisms that drive the exclusion of T cells into immune-sensitive tumors looking for methods to deliver an active and effective immune system into “cold” tumors. In addition, the proceeds from the financing will also be used to further develop additional immuno-oncology discovery platforms based on a deeper understanding of mechanisms that thwart anti-cancer immunity.

As such, the Chen lab at Yale and Normunity will collaborate to develop these proprietary platforms, discover, interrogate, and validate new therapeutic targets in both pre-clinical and clinical studies.

“It is so clear to everyone involved in launching Normunity that there is remarkable potential to translate the Lieping Chen lab’s leading-edge discoveries into breakthrough cancer immunotherapies. We have built the right team and the right seamless collaboration between Normunity and the Lieping Chen lab to rapidly cultivate scientific discovery, jointly share expertise, and advance a novel class of drugs that can potentially set a new standard in the immuno-oncology landscape,” said Tim Shannon, MD, general partner at Canaan Ventures and Chair of Normunity’s Board of Directors.

Industry veteran Rachel Humphrey, MD, has been named CEO of Normunity. Humphrey’s past immune-oncology credentials read like a “Who’s Who” of big pharma with past roles as head of immuno-oncology at both Eli Lilly and Company and AstraZeneca, as well as other roles at Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Mirati Therapeutics. Humphrey also serves on the boards of a half dozen biotechs.

Both Humphrey and Chen—a 2021 inductee to the National Academy of Sciences—have their finger prints on a number of approved immunotherapies, including nivolumab (Opdivo), ipilimumab (Yervoy), durvalumab (Imfinzi), and the TKI sorafenib (Nexavar), experiences that should help speed the work at the new company.

“Normunity is leading the way in establishing a new roadmap for I-O drug discovery with a simple and powerful premise: to free the immune system to work with maximal potential against cancer,” Humphrey said. “With our scientific approach, we are pioneering novel mechanisms where there is unexplored potential for new medicines. With our R&D model, we have established a first-of-a-kind collaboration with the Lieping Chen lab that has already been prolific in identifying and validating novel targets. We have strong momentum advancing our pipeline of immune normalizers as we translate groundbreaking biology into life-changing medicines for cancer patients.”

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