In September 2023, Amalus Therapeutics joined BII’s Venture Lab program. The start-up is a spinout of Ghent University in Belgium, and we chatted with the team to understand the company’s mission and vision.
Which problems do you aim to solve?
Our overarching ambition is to improve the prospects and quality of life of people suffering from cancer types with a lot of stroma or fibrotic diseases. These people have a few effective treatment options, but they all have severe side effects.
Common for these diseases is that pathogenic fibroblasts are the driver of disease progression. In high-stromal tumors, the fibroblasts orchestrate tumor growth, metastasis, suppression of the immune system, and therapy resistance. In fibrosis, they replace normal-functioning tissues with nonfunctional scar tissue, leading to organ failure.
Despite major efforts, no one has been able to selectively target only these disease-associated fibroblasts without harming normal fibroblasts, which the body relies on to function properly. Thus, we became interested in tackling this problem and believe we have a solution to this longstanding unmet need. Amalus Therapeutics has discovered molecules that selectively target disease-associated fibroblasts while leaving normal fibroblasts untouched. This discovery is the foundation for developing first-in-class drugs for new fibrosis and solid tumor treatments.
What inspired you to embark on an entrepreneurial journey?
Our team has different personalities, but we all share a passion for translating scientific discoveries to address unmet medical needs. Being highly motivated to achieve a goal that can help patients can help you overcome those uphill battles and struggles that you will meet on your entrepreneurial journey.
How do you differentiate yourself from others, and how do you make a difference?
We are the only ones able to selectively target disease-associated fibroblasts while leaving normal fibroblasts unharmed. We used a different approach than others and screened many molecules in our unique cell models until we could identify hits that selectively acted on disease-associated fibroblasts and not on normal fibroblasts or other cells.
This is not only a huge advantage regarding safety, but it also holds the potential to combine our agents with other drugs. Combination therapies are important when addressing diseases such as cancer and fibrosis as they are complex and multifactorial. We envision that our agents, in combination with already-known drugs, will increase the acceptance of our product. Thus, Amalus Therapeutics can amplify existing therapies and broaden their scope of application to new cancer and fibrosis indications.
Which milestones do you need to achieve during the Venture Lab program?
Obtaining a complete picture of the mechanism of action is the next value inflection point for us. Additionally, we need to complete some preclinical efficacy studies and expand our team further. We recently hired a talented scientist, Marlies Burgelman, who holds a Ph.D. from the Flemish Institute of Biotechnology (VIB), widely recognized as a leading biotech institution.
How do you benefit from being part of BII’s community?
We are truly impressed by the breadth of support that we receive from BII. Besides the financial, legal, and logistic support, we receive valuable help in shaping our value proposition to present a solid business case to the large network of investors to whom BII gives us access. Our anchor and the coaches during ‘crunches’ in the Venture Lab program are pushing us toward investor readiness while the ‘halos’ help us deal with the professional and personal challenges you face as a first-time founder. Finally, the BII staff and people in the community are always welcoming. Talking daily with talented and creative people passionate about entrepreneurship is a privilege.