The NUI Galway spin-out is developing a cell therapy platform to target cancers
ONK Therapeutics, a Galway-based company focused on developing cell-based cancer treatments, has raised $21m (€18.5m) in Series A funding.
The round was led by current investors including veteran life sciences entrepreneur Seamus Mulligan, who invests in ONK via ALSHC, and New York-headquartered Acorn Bioventures.
They were joined by new investor, US-based Cormorant Asset Management.
Enterprise Ireland, a small shareholder in the company, did not participate in this round of funding.
The NUI Galway spin-out is working on developing an off-the-shelf natural killer-cells therapy platform targeting cancers.
“Cell therapy harnesses the body’s natural defence mechanism to combat diseases, including tumours,” Chris Nowers, ONK Therapeutics’ CEO, said.
“The particular method of cell therapy that we’re exploring, and we are predominately a research-based company, involves natural killer cells. They are part of the body’s natural defence mechanism and they kill rogue cells,” he added.
ONK is utilising a suite of engineering strategies in developing the cell-based therapies.
Its pipeline has several programs in pre-clinical development across both hematological malignancies and solid tumours.
The company’s lead programme is being developed for the treatment of patients with relapsed refractory multiple myeloma.
ONK also has a product in its pre-clinical production portfolio that is being optimised to treat solid tumours such as ovarian, breast and non-small cell lung cancer.
The latest funding will enable ONK to maintain its momentum as it advances pre-clinical programs through comprehensive investigational new drug enabling studies.
It will also be used to boost the company’s manufacturing capability.
When the products are fully developed the end user will include haematologists – treating blood cancers – or oncologists if they are treating patients with solid tumours, according to Mr Nowers.
“It’s such an exciting field that there are many parties watching,” he added.
While two major shareholders – Acorn and Cormorant – are based in the US, Mr Nowers said it is not the sole aim of the company to attract American investors.
However, these particular investors “are very important, they are very well connected, they are experienced in cell therapy, so it’s a really strong endorsement for the company”.
“And of course they are very well connected in the investment community in the US, so when we go onto our next financial round, probably next year, they will be a very good partner to help us expand our network and ensure that we are talking to the right potential investors.”
ONK was founded in 2015 by Professor Michael O’Dwyer MD, of NUI Galway, an expert in translational multiple myeloma research, the tumour microenvironment, and exploitation of natural killer cells as immunotherapy.
Professor O’Dwyer is chief scientific officer at the firm which has now raised $35m in funding