Bringing a new pharmaceutical to market typically takes over a decade of costly research and development as the majority of drugs fail during trials. But innovative bioinformatics company Immuneering is on a mission to improve the drug R&D process by applying artificial intelligence and advanced algorithms to research data, quickly separating the hits from the misses. The company is the brainchild of Ben Zeskind who earned his PhD in biological engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and formed the business plan for Immuneering while at Harvard Business School. Today, he leads an 18-person team with offices in San Diego, New York City, and at CIC Cambridge.
Ben cofounded Immuneering with healthcare and biotechnology pioneer Bob Carpenter back in 2008. When it comes to science and medicine, a lot can happen in 11 years. The field of genomics, in particular, has exploded, providing medical research scientists with high throughput data that can offer insights into how drugs interact at the molecular level when administered. Sorting and analyzing oceans of data has always been a challenge, and biotech companies were hesitant to leverage high throughput data in drug development programs out of quality concerns. But Immuneering has matured the technology, bringing robust control and reproducibility to bioinformatics and giving drug companies confidence to use the data in their R&D.
“Throughout the entire history of our company, embedded in everything we do, we like to focus on following best practices for the way we analyze data,” says Rebecca Kusko, PhD, Chief Strategy Officer at Immuneering. “Quality comes first.”
Drugmakers are partnering with the innovative company Immuneering to advance the development of a wide range of pharmaceuticals, from cancer immunotherapies to treatments for neurodegenerative and rare diseases. It’s important to everyone at Immuneering that the company supports the development of drugs for diseases where there is a large unmet need. Every day, people suffer from afflictions where there just aren’t many good drug treatments available, frustrating patients, their families, and caregivers. But Immuneering is helping dramatically cut down the time it takes to advance drugs, shaving off years in research and giving hope to people in need of better treatments.
The CIC Cambridge based company is proud to have lent a hand in developing a drug that shows promise in treating Huntington’s disease, a fatal genetic disorder that causes nerve cells in the brain to break down. Currently, there is no FDA approved treatment or cure for the disorder. But a pharmaceutical company approached Immuneering asking for help in understanding how its drug, pridopidine, was working in patients with the disease. Researchers at Immuneering were able to apply AI and algorithms to assist the client in better understanding the behavior of pridopidine and its effect on neurons. Together with the client, Immuneering published their findings, advancing disease and drug understanding in the Huntington research scientific community.
In addition to its work in bioinformatics, Immuneering has expanded into two other innovative business areas including building proprietary technologies to enhance drug development and starting its own independent drug development programs. Kusko stresses that the team at Immuneering works diligently to keep data and information siloed, protecting clients’ intellectual property and its own.
Safeguarding confidential information is also one of the reasons why Immuneering has three physical locations with the bulk of its internal drug development work occurring in San Diego, while most of its bioinformatics services occur in CIC Cambridge. “Only a limited number of employees have access to all of our servers,” Kusko says. “Most people only have access to data they strictly need to have access to. We keep our data firewalled.”
At CIC Cambridge, the Immuneering team finds itself growing each year and just announced the completion of a $17 million Series A financing led by Boxcar PMJ LLC. According to Kusko, the company’s steady expansion has been made easier by having a flexible lease that allows the team to upgrade their office as needed. “In terms of our future, we see ourselves continuing to expand in our three business areas, and we actually think we’ll continue to grow at CIC. We’re excited about moving to bigger office spaces and, of course, taking our office plants with us!” Kusko says with a laugh.
Kusko also mentions that the proximity to MIT, Harvard, and other great area universities in the Boston area makes recruiting very convenient. Beyond the perks of the location in Kendall Square, the talent at Immuneering really values the intellectually stimulating environment at CIC. The atmosphere provides motivation sparking creativity and innovation so that the team can solve medical challenges and improve the quality of life for countless patients around the world.