GALWAY, Ireland--(BUSINESS WIRE)--ONK Therapeutics Ltd, an innovative natural killer (NK) cell therapy company, today announced that it has raised US$8M in a financing from new and existing investors. This brings the total raised in the last six months to US$14.6M. It also announces the appointment of Chris Nowers as Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
The new financing round was led by New York-based investor Acorn Bioventures, and current shareholders, principally Seamus Mulligan, an experienced biopharmaceutical executive. The new investment will be used to expand the company’s team, its pre-clinical R&D and its manufacturing capabilities, in order to progress its novel, dual-targeted, natural killer (NK) cell therapy platform towards human clinical trials.
Founded in 2015, by Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) Prof. Michael O’Dwyer, ONK Therapeutics is a pre-clinical stage company dedicated to the development of a best-in-class, off-the-shelf, dual-targeted NK cell therapy platform, targeting solid and hematological cancers. This unique approach combines the expression of a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) and a high affinity, membrane-bound TNF related apoptosis inducing ligand variant (TRAILv). This is coupled with a strong research focus on strategies to enhance homing and persistence as well as to overcome exhaustion, including the exploration of proprietary gene edits, such as the deletion of checkpoint inhibitory receptors in NK cells. The company is advancing an expanding portfolio of product candidates based on this unique platform.
Chris Nowers joins as CEO to lead the company’s expansion and development. Chris is an experienced biopharma executive, with significant cell therapy expertise from his tenure at both Kite Pharma (Head of Europe) and Cell Medica (CEO). Additional roles spanning more than 25 years in the biopharma industry include senior leadership positions as CEO of Avantogen Oncology, General Management roles at Amgen, and senior global and regional commercial leadership roles in the field of immunology at Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS).
The company’s lead research program, ONKT101, is a dual-targeted NK cell therapy incorporating a CD19 CAR and TRAILv targeting the death receptor pathway (DR5) intended for the treatment of relapsed/refractory B cell malignancies. This program is partnered with Avectas and will utilize its proprietary SOLUPORETM technology as a means of non-viral genetic modification. The second program, ONKT102, combines an optimized affinity CD38 CAR and a TRAILv targeting DR5 intended for the treatment of patients with relapsed/refractory multiple myeloma.
Chris Nowers, CEO, said “I was attracted to the company’s innovative and unique approaches, which harness the natural biology of NK cells, and further optimize them through genetic modifications to improve both their cytotoxicity and functionality. This exciting off-the-shelf platform has the potential to produce a next-generation of cell therapies, which could improve performance and overcome some of the shortcomings seen with earlier approaches.”
Commenting on the investment, Isaac Manke, PhD, Partner at Acorn Bioventures said “ONK Therapeutics is a highly innovative next-generation NK cell therapy company with an exciting portfolio of research stage assets targeting both hematological and solid tumors. It is anticipated that this financing will enable the company to progress multiple programs through IND enabling work and towards clinical studies.”
Following the investment, Dr Manke and Mr Nowers will join the board of directors.
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ONK Therapeutics – www.onktherapeutics.com
ONK Therapeutics Ltd, is an innovative cell therapy company dedicated to developing a next generation of ‘off-the-shelf’, dual-targeted NK cell therapies targeting solid and hematological cancers.
The company was founded in 2015, by Prof. O’Dwyer MD, of NUI Galway, an expert in translational multiple myeloma research, the tumour microenvironment, and exploitation of NK cells as cellular immunotherapy. Its core proprietary platform is based on a dual-targeted NK cell expressing both a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) targeting a known tumour antigen and a TNF related apoptosis inducing ligand variant (TRAILv) targeting the death receptor pathway (i.e. DR4 or DR5). This unique approach has the potential to enhance efficacy by addressing both intrinsic (e.g. CAR engagement of a tumor specific antigen) and extrinsic (e.g. signalling through the death receptor pathway) apoptotic pathways, and to reduce the susceptibility to possible target antigen escape through the engagement of tumor antigen independent TRAILv.
The lead program, ONKT101, is a dual-targeted NK cell therapy incorporating a CD19 CAR and TRAILv targeting DR5, intended for the treatment of relapsed/refractory B cell malignancies. This program is partnered with Avectas, with the company having responsibility for development to Phase 1. The company’s second program ONKT102, combines an optimized affinity CD38 CAR and a TRAILv targeting DR5, intended for the treatment of patients with relapsed/refractory multiple myeloma.
In addition to the unique dual-targeted NK cell therapy platform, the company has a strong research focus on strategies to enhance homing, persistence, and overcoming exhaustion, including the exploration of proprietary gene edits, such as the deletion of checkpoint inhibitory receptors in NK cells.
Based in the med-tech hub of Galway, Ireland, ONK Therapeutics shareholders include Acorn Bioventures, ALSHC (principally Seamus Mulligan) and Enterprise Ireland.
Avectas - www.avectas.com
Avectas is a cell engineering technology business developing a unique delivery platform to enable the ex vivo manufacture of gene-modified cell therapy products, which have high in vivo functionality. Their vision is to be a leading non-viral cell engineering technology enabler, integrated into manufacturing processes for multiple autologous and allogeneic therapies, commercialized through development and license agreements. SOLUPORETM is a trademark of Avectas.
Acorn Bioventures - www.acornbioventures.com
Acorn Bioventures invests across stages in small-cap public and private biotechnology companies focused on bringing novel innovative medicines to patients. Their investment flexibility allows them to provide value across the entire spectrum from seed financings, cross-over financings, IPOs, registered direct offerings, PIPEs, open market purchases, etc. Acorn Bioventures' investment process is based on fundamental research. They look for paradigm changing medical therapies, undiscovered or underappreciated assets, backed by outstanding teams.