ImaginAb Aims to Help Our Immune Systems Better Detect Late-Stage Cancer

Keerthi Vedantam

Keerthi Vedantam is a bioscience reporter at dot.LA. She cut her teeth covering everything from cloud computing to 5G in San Francisco and Seattle. Before she covered tech, Keerthi reported on tribal lands and congressional policy in Washington, D.C. Connect with her on Twitter, Clubhouse (@keerthivedantam) or Signal at 408-470-0776.

ImaginAb Aims to Help Our Immune Systems Better Detect Late-Stage Cancer

Cancer drugs have come a long way in treating late-stage patients, and one company is betting its technology can make them even more effective.

ImaginAb, the Inglewood-based cancer immunotherapy company, announced last week that it raised $12.8 million to continue to develop its technology to harness the body's immune system to tackle cancer.

It's one of many companies staking its claim in the growing world of immuno-oncology, which harnesses the body's own immune system to find and treat cancers in late-stage cancer patients.

"Our product visualizes all the T cells in the human body from head to toe," said ImaginAb CEO Ian Wilson. "So just using a standard hospital scanner, you can very quickly determine whether the treatment is working."

ImaginAb was founded 13 years ago by Anna Wu, the company's chief scientific officer and a professor at City of Hope. Its 22 employees are mostly lab scientists and clinical researchers, and the company has raised north of $60 million, according to Wilson.

Inevitably, most people will develop cancer cells at some point in their lives, but the immune system is often able to identify them and kill them. Late-stage cancers have to be treated with chemotherapy or washes of radiation, both of which come with a slew of extreme side effects. The goal of most immuno-oncology technologies like ImaginAb's is comparatively less invasive: to simply help the immune system detect hard-to-find tumors and treat them. Because immuno-oncology therapies don't work for everyone, patients in the later stages will "want to make rapid clinical decisions about what's the right treatment for them so you can extend their life," said Wilson.

ImaginAb uses medical imaging to provide doctors a way to look inside the body and see how effective checkpoint inhibitors are for the patient. Its flagship technology, a minibody agent known as CD8 ImmunoPET, binds to inflammatory cells found in tumors and acts as a signal of sorts for doctors to locate the tumor. Doctors give patients checkpoint inhibitor drugs that "unmask" the tumor to the immune system, allowing it to find it and kill the tumor. The doctor will then use medical imaging again to make sure it works.

This agent allows pharma companies to see the before-and-afters of a drug's effects on a tumor.

"If we can help drug companies have a more rapid and efficient clinical trial process [and] get their drugs registered a lot earlier, that would be fantastic," Wilson said.

ImaginAb's agent is one of many tools in the world of immuno-oncology. And while there is still no curative treatment for late-stage cancer, USC School of Pharmacy Professor Dr. Eunjoo Pacifici said it's a step in the right direction.

"Because of these new therapies providing patients new options, when the patients survive longer, it just means also that they live long enough for something else to come up that could help them if their cancer reemerges," she said.

The minibody is still in phase 2 of clinical trials, which will more or less indicate if the treatment actually works, but pharma companies can still use the technology in small applications. ImaginAb has partnerships with Merck, Pfizer and AstraZeneca. The agent is available in 20 sites in the U.S., including City of Hope and St. John's Cancer Institute in Santa Monica.

But there are larger implications for technology like this — CD8 cells play a role in rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, most autoimmune diseases and even COVID-19.

"If you can image inflammatory cells you'd be able to give more bespoke personalized medicine," Wilson said. "You can say to patients, 'Actually, this is a better treatment for you.' It works beyond oncology."

Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.


Data Is Helping Physicians Track Their Patients Health One Heartbeat at a Time

S.C. Stuart
S.C. Stuart is a foreign correspondent (ELLE China, Esquire Latin America), Contributing Writer at Ziff Davis PCMag, and consults as a futurist for Hollywood Studios. Previously, S.C. was the head of digital at Hearst Magazines International while serving as a Non-Executive Director, UK Trade & Investment (US) and Digital Advisor at The Smithsonian.
Data Is Helping Physicians Track Their Patients Health One Heartbeat at a Time

Are you a human node on a health-based digital network?

According to research from Insider Intelligence, the U.S. smart wearable user market is poised to grow 25.5% in 2023. Which is to say, there are an increasing number of Angelenos walking around this city whose vital signs can be tracked day and night via their doctor's digital device. If you've signed up to a health-based portal via a workplace insurance scheme, or through a primary care provider's portal which utilizes Google Fit, you’re one of them.

Do you know your baseline health status and resting heartbeat? Can you track your pulse, and take your own blood pressure? Have you received genetic counseling based on the sequencing of your genome? Do you avoid dairy because it bloats, or because you know you possess the variant that indicates lactose intolerance?

Read moreShow less

Who Will Win the E-scooter Wars in Los Angeles?

Maylin Tu
Maylin Tu is a freelance writer who lives in L.A. She writes about scooters, bikes and micro-mobility. Find her hovering by the cheese at your next local tech mixer.
Who Will Win the E-scooter Wars in Los Angeles?
Evan Xie

Los Angeles — it’s not just beautiful weather, traffic and the Hollywood Walk of Fame — it’s also the largest shared micromobility market in the U.S. with six operators permitted to deploy up to 6,000 vehicles each.

And despite the open market policy, the competition shows no signs of slowing down.

Read moreShow less

March Capital Raises $650 Million Fund to Invest in AI Startups

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

March Capital Raises $650 Million Fund to Invest in AI Startups
March Capital founder Jamie Montgomery. Illustration by Dilara Mundy.

Santa Monica-based venture outfit March Capital announced Feb. 3 that it raised its largest fund to date, a $650 million investment vehicle that will be used to back up to 15 startups focused on delivering new uses of artificial intelligence.

Read moreShow less