DDD exit financed with 68 MSEK to develop novel cancer therapy
In June 2022, Marika Nestor’s project aiming to develop a novel cancer therapy left the DDD Platform at SciLifeLab. Six months later, the resulting spin-out company Akiram Therapeutics raised 68 MSEK and is heading for clinical trials in 2024.
With the goal to enable personalized medicine, the idea was to evaluate the use of tailored molecular radiotherapy as treatment for advanced thyroid cancer, for which there is currently no effective treatment available. Since the exit, Marika Nestor and colleagues from Uppsala University have started a company – Akiram Therapeutics – to further develop the candidate drug for clinical use. The drug is a novel antibody-based radiopharmaceutical, which has potential to be broadly used in several other cancer indications.
”Marika’s project represented an ideal case for the SciLifeLab DDD model. In short, that means that we get innovative ideas from academic researchers around Sweden and use our technical infrastructure and drug discovery knowledge to develop prototype drugs, while the academic research group continues to develop the biological understanding”, says Per Arvidsson, Director Drug Discovery & Development Platform, SciLifeLab.
In January 2023, Akiram Therapeutics secured investments of 68 MSEK from Sciety Venture Partners and Linc AB, in a venture capital round led by Sciety.
“The support and knowhow from SciLifeLab’s Drug Discovery and Development Platform has been instrumental for the development of the drug that is the basis for the company. The focus on bringing basic research from academia into applied science for the benefit of society, combined with the idea that the researchers behind an innovation continue to own their intellectual property rights, is a motivational force to take the step from lab to business, says Marika Nestor, Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology, Uppsala University.
Based on 20 years of work in the target protein, Marika realized that a subgroup of thyroid cancer patients, that does not respond to current treatment, has a specific protein expressed on the cancer cells. She approached the SciLifeLab DDD platform for help in developing an antibody that could carry a radioactive payload to the tumor to selectively expose it to cell killing radiation while sparing normal tissue.
“We used our expertise at the Drug Discovery and Development Platform in production of a suitable antigen and selected for human antibody binders in our in-house developed phage-display libraries. We characterized several lead antibodies at DDD, while Marika’s team, operated by co-Principal Investigator Anja Mortensen, was working on labeling the best leads and could demonstrate that they did indeed bind selectively to the target – both on cells and later in animal models. The lead antibodies were further engineered for optimal properties, such as isoform selection, binding affinity, biophysical properties, etc. Marika was able to demonstrate a good efficacy in killing cancer cells, while sparing normal cells and tissue. DDD also supported with bioanalysis and calculations of pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic response”, says Per Arvidsson.
Until the financing round, the research behind Akiram Therapeutics has been carried out at Uppsala University with funding from among others from SciLifeLab, VINNOVA and the Swedish Cancer Society.
“Akiram Therapeutics is a great example of a company that bring together the best of academia and industry to advance breakthrough innovations. The collaboration between Akiram Therapeutics and SciLifeLab, coupled with the promising preclinical data and experienced team, made it a compelling investment opportunity for us. The DDD model is a critical component in the life science ecosystem, and we are proud to support projects like Akiram that are working towards finding solutions for unmet medical needs”, says Andreas Lindblom, Managing Parter at Sciety.
“For us, the collaborative environment where we alternated work in the lab with the preclinical models that SciLifeLab have, were very successful. Without the support from SciLifeLab for pre-clinical proof of concept, and Testa Center, where we could optimize the production of the antibody, we would not have started the company. Now, with the financing, our mission to contribute to meet the therapeutic need of a group of cancer patients is about to be realized”, finishes Marika Nestor.
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