Cytune Pharma has secured €6 million ($6.7 million) to advance its lead candidate into the clinic. The drug, a modified version of interleukin-15, is seen by Cytune as a way to stimulate natural killer and cytotoxic cells, without simultaneously activating regulatory T cells that dampen the immune response.
PPF Group, a financial group with €21.6 billion in assets, and other existing investors contributed to the round, which positions Cytune to take its lead candidate RLI15 into Phase I next year. When that happens, PPF has agreed with Cytune’s founding shareholders to acquire all of the remaining shares in a deal that will add Cytune to its small but growing biotech empire.
Cytune will work with Czech Republic-based immunotherapy firm Sotio, another member of PPF’s portfolio of biotech investments, on the advance of the pipeline. “Clinical development going forward will be more and more taken over by Sotio,” Jens Hennecke, chief business officer at Sotio, told FierceBiotech.
The first step in the clinical development plan is to run a Phase I dose escalation study, which is expected to last approximately 18 months. As the trial progresses, Sotio will look to add an extension component to the study, giving it a way to look at the effect of RLI15 in one or two indications. The hope is that RLI15 will drive an increase in the pool of available cytotoxic cells.
Cytune, a Nantes, France-based biotech that was set up to advance work performed at French public health research giant Inserm, thinks its modifications to IL-15 can enable its lead candidate to act on the immune system this way. The modification conjugated IL-15 to its alpha receptor subunit.
"When you have them together they can exert a function that is superior to the IL-15 molecule itself,” Sotio CSO Radek Spisek said. “For IL-15 to function you need three receptor subunit components--alpha, beta, gamma--and the alpha subunit usually is not present on the target cells."
Other biotechs, notably Novartis ($NVS) acquisition Admune, are also developing IL-15 immunotherapies. Admune landed a buyout offer from Novartis after advancing its IL-15 into the clinic, but Sotio has no such ambitions.
“The game that we are playing is not primarily taking a product, bringing it to the next value step and then try to out-partner or sell the company or anything like that,” Hennecke said. “This is really with a long-term vision to build an oncology speciality pharma with its own products."
Backed by PPF, Sotio is willing to spend to realize this vision. "We have a high appetite to bring in more products into the pipeline for oncology,” Hennecke said.
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