Baxalta, Medicxi back upstart's work on building a better T cell for immuno-oncology

University Medical Center Utrecht's Jürgen Kuball

Not all T cells are built alike. And insights on one particular variation of the model are driving the launch of a Dutch biotech spinout that will attempt to blaze a fresh path for itself in the ever-widening frontier of immuno-oncology.

The biotech is Gadeta, which today announced a €7 million round to jump-start its research based on insights into gamma delta (γδ) T cells. The biotech is the brainchild of Dr. Jürgen Kuball at the University Medical Center Utrecht, who rounded up support from Baxalta Ventures and Medicxi Ventures (the former Index venture crew in life sciences) to ramp up work on two clinical programs for acute myeloid leukemia and a solid tumor.

In earlier research work, Kuball and his team have discussed the potential of γδT cell immunobiology for particular targets, including solid tumors and blood cancers. A whole host of adapted T cells, including the reengineered CAR-T class, have been pushed along in the clinic as investigators advance new ways to generate an immune system attack on cancer cells.

But even as the therapeutic potential of the pioneers has been widely touted as a multibillion-dollar class in the making, the limitations are also increasingly apparent. And that has helped inspire academics to continue to work on building better immuno-oncology programs.

You can now add Gadeta to the growing list of biotechs looking to apply that work in the clinic.

"It took us a little while to understand what Jürgen was doing," Mark de Boer, a Medicxi venture partner and now also CEO of the startup, tells me. "Gamma delta T cells have been known for a long time to be able to recognize cancer cells. The simple, brilliant thing he did was to transplant the gamma delta receptor into alpha beta T cells."

By doing that, he says, Gadeta's backers believe the biotech can build a better cancer therapy.

The biotech's Series A will fuel the start of a clinical trial for AML later this year or in early 2017, says the CEO, with a second study for a solid tumor set to begin later in 2017. 

Medicxi--which seeded the early work on Gadeta--is well known in European circles for its focus on asset-centric development programs, using limited resources to seek out groundbreaking therapies. The venture crew likes to make small, targeted investments in startups to explore the clinical value of what they're after before any big investments are made. And Gadeta's use of Kuball's lab team and local hospital, along with some heavy lifting for CROs, will keep the initial staff limited to a handful of people.

- here's the release