The recently founded start-up PokeACell has been accepted in the BII program, Creation House with DKK 10M in funding. During the coming 18 months, the company will relocate to BII’s facilities and by the end of 2020, bring their research to clinical trials.
PokeACell is targeting two of the most severe skin cancers today: Metastatic Melanoma and Merkel Cell Carcinoma with T cell therapy. The company is a spin-out from DTU and based on Professor Sine Reker Hadrup’s research in T cell therapy. In 2019, she received a Proof of Concept grant from BioInnovation Institute which has allowed the company to build a stronger data set for their technology.
“In the last decade, immunotherapies have shown to be efficient cancer therapy, but not without complications. In this crowded field of immunotherapy, PokeACells stood out with their unique approach using patients’ own T cells. They are moving immunotherapies into a new area of more efficient, personalized medicine with fewer side effects”, says Senior Scientific Business Developer at BII, Hervør Lykke Olsen.
PokeAcell has set a strong team with deep science and business competences. Sine Hadrup and Søren N. Jakobsen, Ph.D. in Biochemistry, who have developed the technology at DTU will be CSO and CTO in PokeAcell. Former VP in Novo Nordisk and Chr. Hansen, Anne Reker Cordt will lead the company as CEO.
We asked Anne Reker Cordt a few questions about the company’s profile and plans.
What problem are you solving?
When patients suffer from metastatic cancer the immune system is inactivated and the T cells, the elite soldiers of the immune system are numbed. In PokeACell, we take out T cells from the patients, then we activate the cancer-specific T cells and give them back to the patients. In this way, we create a fully personal T cell therapy that bypasses the inactivated immune system and kills the tumor.
What are you bringing to existing treatments?
Cell therapy is approved for liquid tumors, but solid tumors remain a big challenge, as they mutate and change. As a result, it is important to target the tumor in several areas simultaneously and this we can achieve with our ImmPACT T cell therapy. We have a proprietary technology for activating and expanding the desired T cells naturally without genetic modifications. With this approach, we create a strong, safe and simple T cell product with a unique profile for metastatic solid tumors.
How far have you come?
The challenge in cell therapy is to manufacture the right quantity of optimal cells and this is our focus currently. In parallel, we are preparing to test the therapy in an investigator lead clinical trial at the National Center for Cancer Immunotherapy at Herlev Hospital. This will create insight into the safety and efficacy of the product in humans and is vital for the prospects of the therapy.
Why did you apply for the Creation House program?
It is an amazing opportunity for us to catalyze the transformation from a university project to a biotech company. We see a great advantage in the infrastructure BII offers and the sparring we can have here.