Dr Boreham’s Crucible: Imagion Biosystems

Small Caps | Feb 13 2023

Tim Boreham reports Imagion's CEO believes the oncology imaging innovator has achieved far more with its initial early-stage breast cancer study results than investors might appreciate.

By Tim Boreham

ASX code: IBX

Share price: 2.6 cents

Market cap: $29.1 million

Shares on issue: 1,121,318,534

Executive chair: Robert (Bob) Proulx

Board: Robert Proulx, Michael Harsh, David Ludvigson, Jovanka Naumoska, Mark Van Asten, Dianne Angus

Financials (December quarter 2022): receipts $88,000, cash outflows $454,000, cash balance $4.44 million, quarters of available funding 9.8

Identifiable major holders: Manhattan Scientific (4.6%), The Board of Regents of the University of Texas System 0.9%, Anthony Faillace 0.9%, Hoagie Li 0.83%, Robert Proulx 0.55%.

Imagion ((IBX)) chief Bob Proulx reckons the oncology imaging innovator has achieved far more with its initial, early-stage breast cancer study results than investors might appreciate.

Carried out in Australia, the phase I trial showed the first signs that the company’s approach of detecting tumours with magnetic nanoparticles was safe - and it actually might work.

“As far as I know, it was the first time ever … that someone has taken an iron oxide particle with a targeting ligand [molecule] and put it in a patient,” Mr Proulx says.

The results were deemed significant enough to be the subject of a ‘poster’ presentation at last December’s San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, attended by a cluster of 3,000 oncologists.

And there’s more.

This week, the company announced that an independent, blinded review by a panel of expert breast cancer radiologists supported the potential of the company’s Magsense particles to detect tumour cells in lymph nodes, via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines.

This means the company can shelve expensive plans to develop its own device, in favour of commercializing the particles themselves (see below).

“We don’t have to worry about building a proprietary machine or commercialising a new piece of equipment,” Mr Proulx says.

“We can sell our particles at any hospital that has an existing MRI.”

While Imagion initially is focused on human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 (HER2) type breast cancer, other solid tumours including prostate and ovarian cancers are also in its sights.

Los Alamos project goes off with a bang

Imagion combines the use of magnetically detectable nanoparticles with biological agents to detect certain solid cancers.

Imagion’s underlying tech was created by a Los Alamos, New Mexico physicist called Edward R Flynn, who tinkered with magnetic sensors after his wife contracted breast cancer.

“It was the classic scenario of a scientist wanting to do something about it,” Mr Proulx says.

The technology resided in diagnostics house Senior Scientific, which was acquired by the New York based nano-medicines group Manhattan Scientifics. The relevant activities ended up within the newly-formed Imagion, which listed on the ASX on June 22, 2017 after raising $12 million at 20 cents a share.

The listing means Imagion is headquartered in Melbourne, but most of its activities take place in San Diego (where Mr Proulx resides).

Avoiding biopsies with better diagnosis

But what is the problem Imagion is purporting to solve? After all, there are at least five ways of imaging the body currently.

Mr Proulx says x-rays are great for detecting broken bones, while ultrasounds are cheap and ideal for showing up foetuses and abnormalities.

Computed tomography (CT) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans are also useful, but have their limitations (the latter uses radioactive tracing agents).

MRI scans are superior resolution-wise and will detect an “anatomical problem”, such as a fibrotic mass.

“But none of these methods can tell you whether a suspicious spot or lesion is cancerous or not.”

The idea of Magsense is to avoid unnecessary biopsies.

“When a breast cancer is detected, the first thing the patient wants to know is whether it has spread to the lymph nodes,” Mr Proulx says.

“An ultrasound might tell whether a lymph node is larger or misplaced and [whether to do] a biopsy, but what if we can give the answer non-invasively?”

The ‘non-invasive’ angle is especially pertinent for prostate cancer detection, given the biopsy sample is obtained via a 12-pronged tool inserted up the rectum.

We’re glad we got to the bottom of that one.

Making sense of Magsense

Imagion’s Magsense platform involves injecting iron oxide nanoparticles labelled with cell-specific targeting antibodies or peptides, contained within a solution.

“A detectable magnetic particle is coupled to cancer-specific targeting molecules, so when the nanoparticle is injected into the patient it will circulate and will seek out the cancer cells,” Mr Proulx says.

The nanoparticles attached to the cancer cells lose their magnetism more slowly than the unattached ones, acting as a magnetic beacon.

In the case of breast cancer, HER2 refers to an antigen that expresses the human epidermal receptor.

“Some antibodies are specific to that receptor. So, if you put the antibody on our particle it will bind to those cancer cells,” Mr Proulx says.

If there no cancer, the particles will circulate harmlessly and the iron oxide eventually will be excreted via the liver.

“Everything about this is biologically safe; we are using antibodies or peptides that the body already recognises, with a detectable iron oxide particle,” Mr Proulx says.

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