A local biotechnology firm involved in Covid-19 research has raised US$11 million (S$15 million) from international investors to expand its operations and enhance its technology in immune profiling.
The significant fund injection will support the multiple projects that ImmunoScape, a spin-off from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) which started operations in 2017, is working on.
A key project is partnering vaccine development firms and research groups to analyse the body's immune responses to the coronavirus.
ImmunoScape is also doing research in immuno-oncology, aimed at developing treatments that use the body's immune system to fight cancer.
The two main investors are US-based venture firm Anzu Partners, which invested US$6 million, and the University of Tokyo Edge Capital (Utec) in Japan, which invested US$2.65 million. Other investors contributed the remaining sum.
Dr Alessandra Nardin, chief operating officer of ImmunoScape, said the team has developed an immune profiling platform that could be leveraged for vaccine design.
Working with Covid-19 patients and recovered individuals, the firm is gathering a large data set on the human T-cell response to the virus. The T cell is a type of white blood cell that makes up part of an immune response. The aim is to develop treatment and vaccines with its partners, Dr Nardin said.
ImmunoScape has links with Massachusetts General Hospital in the United States, the University of Parma in Italy and Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore.
To battle Covid-19, ImmunoScape has collaborated with various vaccine development firms, such as the US' Arcturus Therapeutics, which is running clinical trials in Singapore.
Mr Ng Choon Peng, chief executive of ImmunoScape, said it plans to bring in additional manpower, such as immunologists, bioinformaticians and specialists, for its laboratory at Singapore research and development hub Biopolis.
"We are expanding into key markets like the US and Japan, building a business development team, as well as a lab in the US," he said.
Mr Ng hopes to eventually be able to use machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to uncover more insights into the immune system.
As more data is collected over time, AI is needed to analyse and process the data to decipher more patterns that might emerge, he said.
This will aid ImmunoScape's current partnerships with drug development companies to develop their cancer and Covid-19 drugs more quickly and increase the success rates of clinical trials.
ImmunoScape also hopes to continue its core work: Enabling advanced immunotherapies for cancer. By analysing every patient's unique immune system, it would help the biopharmaceutical sector to develop individualised medicine for cancer.
This is something Anzu Partners is keen to support, said its managing partner David Michael.
ImmunoScape's success in securing critical funding came after A*ccelerate, the commercialisation arm of A*Star, introduced the company to Utec and Anzu Partners during a visit to Singapore by the two venture capital firms.
Anzu Partners, which is investing in ImmunoScape for the first time, believes the company has developed a valuable and differentiated capability of profiling the immune system.
"We expect the company management to wisely use the funds to develop their commercial capabilities into global biopharma markets," said Mr Michael.
Utec, on the other hand, has previously invested $2.4 million in the Singapore company as it saw the tremendous value and potential, it said, adding that it does not rule out further investments.
Utec partner Naonori Kurokawa said: "The ability to discover multiple T-cell antigens from patients is game-changing and can provide valuable and critical information to biotech companies developing cancer immunotherapy."