GALWAY, Ireland & SAN DIEGO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--ONK Therapeutics, an innovative NK cell therapy platform company, today announced the closing of its $21.5 million Series A financing, led by current investors Acorn Bioventures and ALSHC, who were joined by Cormorant Asset Management.
The financing will enable ONK to maintain its strong momentum as it advances pre-clinical programs through comprehensive IND-enabling studies, including in-vivo proof-of-concept models across multiple programs. ONK will also continue progress towards a GMP manufacturing capability, as it optimizes both its proprietary cell engineering platform and process development.
ONK’s pipeline currently has three programs in pre-clinical development across both hematological malignancies and solid tumors. The Company is pioneering optimally engineered natural killer (NK) cell therapies, utilising a suite of engineering strategies to optimize cytotoxic potential, metabolic health and persistence of NK cells, while reducing the potential for their exhaustion in the tumor microenvironment. This is made possible through the Company’s ability to achieve unique proprietary gene edits.
ONK’s comprehensive owned and exclusively licensed patent estate covers CISH knockout (KO) in the field of human NK cells for the treatment of cancer, irrespective of the NK cell source; the expression of high affinity, membrane bound, TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand variants (TRAILv); and the deletion of checkpoint receptors in NK cells, including extracellular proteins CD96, TIGIT, Siglec-7 and PD-1.
These different strategies are being employed across the ONK pre-clinical product portfolio, including:
- ONKT102, the Company’s lead program, an optimized-affinity CD38 CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) NK cell therapy being developed for the treatment of patients with relapsed refractory multiple myeloma
- ONKT104, a CLL-1 CAR-NKprogram targeting AML stem cells, which is advancing through later stages of its pre-clinical evaluation
- ONKT103, which is being optimized to treat solid tumors such as Ovarian, Breast and Non- Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) and is based on tumor associated MUC-1 targeting CAR NK cells
In addition, these programs will explore incorporating further novel gene edits, such as CISH KO and TRAIL variants targeting DR5 or DR4.
ONK has also recently started two programs focused on the potential of highly functional CISH KO NK cells, namely:
- ONKT105, exploring CISH KO cord bloodderived NK cells
- ONKT106, exploring CISH KO iPSC derived NK cells
The Company also continues to make significant progress on the manufacturing front, optimizing its process development, gene editing capability, efficient expansion techniques and its cryopreservation capability. In combination, these will support manufacturing as part of ONK’s progress towards GMP manufacturing of large numbers of NK cell therapy batches from a single cord.
Chris Nowers, ONK Therapeutics’ CEO said, “We thank our existing investors for their continued support and are pleased to welcome Cormorant Asset Management as a new investor and Andy Phillips to our Board, as we continue against our goal to optimally engineer, off-the-shelf, NK cell therapies to potentially cure patients with cancer. This financing will allow us to continue to deliver against our focused strategy, funding significant program progression, organizational development, and company growth. Within the next 18 months, we have the potential for multiple IND approvals to enable our evolution into a clinical-stage company.”
Commenting on the investment, Isaac Manke, Ph.D., Partner at Acorn Bioventures said, “Over the 12 months of our investment, ONK Therapeutics has made excellent progress in advancing both its innovative next-generation NK cell therapy platform and across its exciting portfolio of pre-clinical assets. We are pleased to continue our support and to have introduced Cormorant Asset Management as a new investor to join with ourselves and founding investor ALSHC.”
Andy Phillips, Ph.D., Managing Director at Cormorant Asset Management said, “We are impressed by the Company’s potential to make a highly innovative contribution to the quickly evolving field of NK cell therapies, which we believe have the opportunity to improve the lives of patients in need of new treatments for their disease. We are pleased to join the current investor groups in financing ONK as it looks forward to important proof of principle in vivo data and additional value catalyzing milestones.”
About ONK Therapeutics – www.onktherapeutics.com
ONK Therapeutics is an innovative cell therapy company dedicated to developing the next generation of off-the-shelf, optimally engineered natural killer (NK) cell therapies targeting both hematological malignancies and solid tumors.
The Company was founded in 2015, by Prof. Michael O’Dwyer MD, of NUI Galway, an expert in translational multiple myeloma research, the tumor microenvironment, and exploitation of NK cells as cellular immunotherapy. Its core proprietary off-the-shelf cell therapy platform is based on optimally engineered NK cells that express not only a specific tumor antigen targeted CAR, but also have undergone different gene edits (e.g. CISH KO and CD38 KO) and additional construct features including a TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand variant (TRAILv) targeting the death receptor pathway via DR4 or DR5. This pioneering approach has the clear goal to maximize the cytotoxic potential, metabolic health and persistence of the engineered NK cells.
ONK’s current pre-clinical pipeline comprises three programs:
- ONKT102 combines an optimized affinity CD38 CAR NK productcandidate that incorporates a CD38 KO, intended for the treatmentof patients with relapsed/refractory multiplemyeloma
- ONKT103 combines a TA-MUC1CAR NK product candidate, for the treatment of solid tumors
- ONKT104 combines a CLL-1 CAR NK product candidate, for the treatmentof AML
In addition, these programs will explore incorporating further novel gene edits, such as CISH KO and TRAIL variants targeting DR5 and DR4.
ONK has also initiated two programs focused on the potential of highly functional CISH KO NK cells, namely:
- ONKT105, exploring CISH KO cord bloodderived NK cells
- ONKT106, exploring CISH KO iPSC derivedNK cells
ONK has an exclusive global patent license agreement with Australia’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) providing the Company with rights to CISH knockout (KO) in the field of human NK cells for the treatment of cancer, irrespective of the NK cell source. CISH KO is a highly researched edit in NK cells for which the first US patent has since been granted to WEHI.
ONK Therapeutics is headquartered in the med-tech hub of Galway, Ireland, with a wholly-owned US subsidiary, ONK Therapeutics, Inc. based at JLabs @ San Diego. Shareholders include Acorn Bioventures, Cormorant Asset Management, ALSHC (principally Seamus Mulligan), and Enterprise Ireland.