ImmuneMed: lifting the burden of infectious disease
ImmuneMed is developing both its phase 2-ready antiviral drug candidate hzVSF to treat viral diseases including chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection and a line of rapid diagnostic kits to test for acute febrile infectious diseases.
Infectious diseases remain a leading cause of death around the world, especially among children and old people. Since its founding in 2000, the mission of ImmuneMed, based in Chuncheon, South Korea, has been to free people around the world from the burden of infectious diseases by developing new antiviral therapies and diagnostic tests.
ImmuneMed has discovered a naturally produced antiviral protein called virus suppressing factor (VSF) that shows superior broad-spectrum antiviral and anti-inflammatory activity than currently marketed cytokines. VSF binds to the virus-induced vimentin protein, which is expressed only on virus-infected cells, and which, once bound to a ligand, inhibits viral proliferation and also suppresses infection-related inflammation that affects cell-signalling pathways.
Since VSF was first discovered in mice, ImmuneMed, working with the Swiss contract manufacturing organization (CMO) Lonza, has developed a humanized version of VSF (hzVSF). VSF regulates host fac- tors such as DNA damage binding protein 1 (DDB1) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) to inhibit viral rep- lication and inflammation in virally infected cells. In vitro and in vivo preclinical studies in several ani- mal models demonstrated good efficacy of hzVSF against encephalomyocarditis virus, influenza, and hepatitis B and C viruses (Fig. 1). Toxicology studies in rats and dogs showed that hzVSF also has a good safety profile.
Fig. 1 | Anti-replication and anti-inflammatory effects of humanized virus suppressing factor (hzVSF) in vitro. a, Hepatitis B virus (HBV)-producing cell line, HepG2.2.15, was treated with 200 ng ml−1 hzVSF for 48 h. After the isolation of total RNA, RT–PCR was performed to examine the expression of genes that are involved in transcription of HBV and covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA). SMC5 and SMC6, host restriction factors for HBV, were reserved by treatment with hzVSF. b, HepG2 cells were infected with HBV and treated with 200 ng ml−1 hzVSF for 48 h. After the isolation of total proteins, western blot analysis was performed for the expression of DNA damage binding protein 1 (DDB1). c, hzVSF and lamivudine decrease cccDNA of HBV in HepG2.2.15 cells. d, HepG2 cells were treated with 200 ng ml−1 hzVSF for 48 h. With isolated total RNA, RT–PCR was performed to examine the expression of genes that are involved in inflammation. Treatment with hzVSF decreased expression of tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and interleukin 6 (IL-6). e, HepG2.2.15 cells were treated with different concentrations of hzVSF for 4 days to examine the level of TNF using ELISA. Lami, lamivudine.
With this solid foundation in place, ImmuneMed launched a phase 1 safety trial of hzVSF in 56 healthy volunteers in South Korea in November 2018, which is expected to be completed by early 2020. To date, volunteers in the fifth cohort have received single intra- venous doses of up to 200 mg and shown no serious adverse events, and doses of 400 mg are now being explored in a sixth cohort, with two more planned at increasing doses. The company is now preparing for a phase 2a trial of hzVSF for chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection in South Korea to begin in 2020, as well as an additional phase 1 trial in Australia to assess the safety and pharmacokinetic profile of single and multiple doses of hzVSF in healthy volunteers, which is also anticipated to launch in 2020.
ImmuneMed’s recent clinical trials have been funded with $15 million of Korean venture capital, bringing the company’s total investment to date to $30 million. Now, ImmuneMed is looking for further investment from within Korea and elsewhere to advance its clinical trials program. The company is also seeking global pharmaceutical partners for further codevelopment of hzVSF for HBV and an expanded range of viral diseases, especially as data come in from phase 2 trials. The company plans an Initial Public Offering (IPO) in 2020.
The treatment of infectious diseases requires not only effective therapies but also timely and accurate diagnoses. So while the treatment of infectious disease is the central focus of ImmuneMed’s R&D activities, the company is equally dedicated to developing new diagnostic tests for a wide variety of viral and bacterial infections that draw on its expertise in antibody and antigen discovery.
ImmuneMed has two platforms to advance this goal of diagnosis and vaccine development: one is directed at the discovery and development of anti- bodies or antigens with specificity for particular sero- types or species of infectious agents, and the other supports the discovery of serotype-, serogroup-, or genus-specific antibodies or antigens. Combining in-house R&D with collaborations with research groups at several universities, ImmuneMed is using these platforms to develop diagnostic kits that give accurate results in just 15 minutes.
ImmuneMed has an established manufacturing process for producing such test kits, and has already brought to market rapid diagnostic kits for scrub typhus, leptospirosis and hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome. Another accurate diagnostic test for dengue fever, a leading cause of illness and death in Southeast Asia, is ready for commercialization pending approval from the Korean regulatory agency, and development of a test for dengue hemorrhagic fever is almost complete. ImmuneMed has identified specific antigens from Salmonella enterica serovar Typhi, which causes typhoid fever, which is being developed into a diagnostic test.
Director of Research Institute
Republic of Korea
Tel: +82 10 4981 0417