UNIKUM is amongst the four companies accepted into the Creation House program at BioInnovation Institute in the spring of 2020. During the coming 18 months, the company will have access to BII’s network, business development team, infrastructure in terms of labs and office space as well as DKK 10M in a convertible loan.
The company builds on research in cancer immunology from Associate Professor Martin R. Jakobsen’s laboratory at Aarhus University. The former Ph.D. student, Anders Laustsen, made the breakthrough discovery on how to manufacture a specific type of innate immune cell named plasmacytoid Dendritic Cell (pDC) for use in cellular therapies, including cancer immunotherapy.
The research to establish the preliminary proof of concept was funded with a DKK 1M Proof of Concept grant by BioInnovation Institute at the beginning of 2019 to Martin R. Jakobsen who leads the pDC biology research group at Aarhus University. He has now joined UNIKUM’s Board of Directors. Serial entrepreneur Ulrik Nielsen, based in Boston, has joined as chair of UNIKUM.
“At the BII, we are excited to work with an outstanding and experienced team. UNIKUM has the potential to develop the next generation of technology in the cell therapy space, which has become increasingly crowded over the last few years”, says Senior Business Developer at BII, Giles Dudley.
The company is founded by Martin R. Jakobsen, Anders Laustsen, Rasmus O. Bak, Martin Roland Jensen, Ulrik Nielsen and Mai-Britt Zocca.
We meet with co-founder Martin Roland Jensen to talk about the company.
What are you working on in UNIKUM?
We are building a platform technology that can be the champion of a whole new class of cellular therapies. It is based on plasmacytoid Dendritic Cells which have features that have been lacking in existing cell therapies. In contrast to traditional DC’s that only presents antigen to initiate an immune response, the pDC’s also strongly stimulates and boosts both the adaptive and innate immune response, and it has the ability directly to mediate cancer cell killing.
How will this new type of cellular therapy benefit patients?
pDC based immunotherapy may be more effective in the fight against cancer and in the treatment of some auto-immune diseases by its unique regulatory factors. Patients may expect stronger and sustained immune responses with this type of immunotherapy, and we also expect to see less unpleasant side effects than seen in existing cancer treatments. Currently, we are working towards generating a solid data package proving the therapeutic concept using the patient’s own stem cells. However, in the second generation of our pDC technology, we will introduce general donor-derived stem cells to create an off-the-shelf product for treatment of all patients.
What do you expect from your time at BII?
We are still refining the technology and business strategy. During the Creation House program, we will decide which indications to target first. Being part of the environment here at BII is very beneficial for the technical and commercial development of the project and we expect to reach a level where we are ready for clinical phase I studies and have secured a Series A investment.