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Macrophage Pharma backed by Merck Ventures

Merck Ventures has joined the Series A investor syndicate of the British immuno-oncology specialist Macrophage Pharma Ltd.

Merck Ventures extended the £9m (€9.8m) Series A investment made by CRT Pioneer Fund, Novo Holdings A/S and Aglaia Biomedical Ventures BV in January „with an equal size of investment“. Macrophage Pharma said it will use the proceeds to finance Phase I clincial trials of its lead candidate p38MAPi, a macrophage-targeted p38MAP kinase inhibitor and the development of two further macrophage modulators of the tumour microenvironment, currently in discovery stage. Clinical trials are scheduled to start in 2018.

Macrophage Pharma’s in January acquired several drug candidates and licenced Esterase Sensitive Motif (ESM) technology platform from Chroma Therapeutics Ltd (Oxford, UK). ESM technology chemically adds specific cell delivery signalling molecules to active drugs as a means of transporting them into macrophages or monocytes. The resulting pro-drug is cleaved by esterases in the cell, accumulating the active substance intracellulary, which results in increased potency and duration of action.

Specific types of macrophages are attracted by tumours, when they come under attack of the immune system, and help to modulate the tumour microenvironment in a manner that promotes cancer survival and that puts the brakes on tumour specific immune responses. Such macrophages are an attractive drug target in immuno-oncology approaches aimed at triggering re-activation of the body’s natural immune system to fight cancer but the cells can also be used as drug carriers. 

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