ONK Therapeutics, a Galway-based cancer research company, has raised $21.5m in a Series A funding round for its natural killer (NK) cell therapy platform.
With three programmes in the pipeline currently in pre-clinical development, focusing on haematological malignancies and solid tumours, ONK aims to use the funding to invest in its investigative new drug (IND) studies for FDA approval.
ONK will also use the funding to continue the progression of its manufacturing capability as it optimises both its proprietary cell engineering platform and process development.
The latest funding round was led by current investors Acorn Bioventures and life sciences entrepreneur Séamus via ALSHC, who were joined by Cormorant Asset Management.
ONK Therapeutics was founded in 2015 as a spinout from NUI Galway by biomedical science researcher Prof Michael O’Dwyer. In June last year, it teamed up with researchers from Trinity College Dublin to explore the metabolic reprogramming and engineering of NK cells.
NK cells play an important role in our defence against cancer, as they can directly kill tumour cells. Once activated, NK cells increase their uptake of cellular fuel, which is converted into energy by a biochemical engine that powers the all-important cancer-killing cells.
The two-year project was awarded an Enterprise Ireland Innovation Partnership Programme grant, which will cover 80pc of the €373,295 project costs. ONK Therapeutics will provide the remaining 20pc of the financing.
Chris Nowers, chief executive of ONK, welcomed Andy Phillips, managing director of Cormorant Asset Management, to the ONK board, and said that the company would continue its goal to optimally engineer, off-the-shelf, NK cell therapies “to potentially cure patients with cancer”.
Nowers added that the funding will help the start-up to progress its programmes significantly, with the potential for multiple IND approvals within the next 18 months to enable ONK’s evolution into a clinical stage company.
While headquartered in Galway, ONK Therapeutics has a wholly-owned US subsidiary based at the biotech incubator and lab space JLabs @ San Diego.
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