With the aim of tackling cancer by enhancing natural killer cells, the NUI Galway spin-out will use the funding to advance its studies.
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.
The company currently has three programmes in pre-clinical development, focusing on haematological malignancies and solid tumours.
It plans to use the fresh funding to advance its pre-clinical studies, including in-vivo proof-of-concept models. It will also continue the progression of its manufacturing capability as it optimises its proprietary cell engineering platform and process development.
The funding round was led by current investors Acorn Bioventures and life sciences entrepreneur Séamus Mulligan via ALSHC, and also included Cormorant Asset Management.
Andy Phillips, managing director of Cormorant Asset Management, will now join the ONK board.
ONK Therapeutics was founded in 2015 as a spin-out from NUI Galway by biomedical science researcher Prof Michael O’Dwyer. It focuses on developing next-generation, off-the-shelf therapies targeting solid and haematological cancers by enhancing 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.
In June last year, the start-up teamed up with researchers from Trinity College Dublin to explore the metabolic reprogramming and engineering of NK cells.
Chris Nowers, chief executive of ONK Therapeutics, said the company will continue its goal to optimally engineer NK cell therapies “to potentially cure patients with cancer”.
He added that the funding will help the start-up to progress its programmes significantly, with the potential for multiple investigational new drug approvals within the next 18 months, bringing ONK into a clinical-stage company.
ONK Therapeutics is headquartered in Galway and has a wholly owned US subsidiary based at the biotech incubator and lab space JLabs @ San Diego.
As well as the investors in this funding round, the company has been backed by Enterprise Ireland.
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