Credit: ONK Therapeutics and Trinity College Dublin.

ONK Therapeutics Ltd, an innovative natural killer (NK) cell therapy company, announced today that it has received an Innovation Partnership Program (IPP) grant from Enterprise Ireland (EI) to support collaborative research at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, led by Dr David Finlay on optimizing metabolism and developing NK cells for improved cancer therapies.

Dr. Finlay, Associate Professor of Immune Metabolism in the Faculties of Biochemistry and Immunology and Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Trinity College Dublin is a leading global expert on NK cell metabolism. His group was the first to characterize cellular metabolic pathways in NK cells and to demonstrate the importance of NK cell metabolism for the cytotoxic antitumor functions of these cells.

There is active research to optimize the effectiveness of NK cell therapies against solid tumors by addressing the immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment (TME) in which NK cell metabolism is due to low glucose levels, oxygen starvation (hypoxia), the presence of inhibitory cytokines and the, higher Concentration of tumor-derived metabolic end products such as lactate.

To date, such improvement strategies to increase the effectiveness of NK cells in the tumor microenvironment of solid cancers have focused on the addition of cytokines and other factors.

“We are pursuing a completely new approach by approaching NK cell metabolism from the inside out and fundamentally developing NK cells so that they can better treat cancer by increasing their resistance to the unfavorable metabolic conditions caused by tumors,” said Prof. Michael O’Dwyer, Founder and CSO at ONK Therapeutics. “When working with Dr. Finlay, we work together with the pioneering experts in the field of NK immune metabolism. ”

Under the terms of the collaboration, Trinity College Dublin retains all intellectual property (IP) resulting from the research collaboration, with ONK Therapeutics having an exclusive option to license the intellectual property.

“To understand why cellular cancer immunotherapies are not effective in all cancer patients, scientists are actively trying to find out why certain patients respond and others do not, and why some cancers can be treated successfully but others do not. A new reason is that tumors can create metabolically unfavorable environments that could affect the effectiveness of immune cell therapies. My laboratory has the leading expertise in NK cell metabolism, which puts us in a very strong position to address this challenge, ”said Dr. Finlay.

“The manipulation of NK cell metabolism to improve anti-cancer function is completely new and only possible because of our discoveries over the past five years,” he said. “Our goal is to discover new targets in NK cells that can be manipulated by CRISPR deletion or overexpression strategies. A detailed assessment of the resistance of these cells to the hostile environment created by tumors should support the development of improved NK cell therapies. It is an innovative approach to developing improved cell therapies for the treatment of cancer, especially solid tumors. “

Lawrence Lee, Manager, Innovation Partnership Program Enterprise Ireland, said, “We are excited to support this innovative research that has the potential to bring real and tangible benefits to cancer patients in Ireland and around the world. The project is in line with Enterprise Ireland’s strategic goal of supporting world-leading research in Ireland and fostering relationships between industry and academic partners. Research initiatives like these can further strengthen Ireland’s international reputation in research and lay the foundations for the jobs of the future.

Enterprise Ireland funding covers 80% of the € 373,295 project costs, with industrial partner ONK Therapeutics bearing € 75,000 (20%) of the project costs. Trinity College Dublin will add two more postdocs to Dr. Recruit Finlay.

Chris Nowers, CEO of ONK Therapeutics, said, “We are very ambitious in our goal of becoming a global leader in engineered NK cell therapies that not only treat cancer, but ultimately cure cancer. Our academic partnerships will provide rich research and strengthen our own expertise as we strive to offer new therapeutic options to patients in need. ”

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