Ex-GSK immunology chief to lead Flagship Pioneering startup Kintai Therapeutics

Flagship Pioneering is launching Kintai Therapeutics with Dr. Paul-Peter Tak, a former GlaxoSmithKline executive, at the helm. Tak signs on as the startup steers a pipeline of what it calls “precision enteric medicines” toward the clinic, with the first programs slated to enter phase 1 as early as next year. 

Founded in 2016, Kintai is targeting the body’s enteric signaling networks to create a new class of drugs for diverse disease areas including autoimmune, metabolic and neurologic diseases along with various cancers. The enteric signaling network, as Tak puts it, is made up of three parts: the gut’s immune system, its microbiome and its nervous system. The Kintai team looked into the connection between these components to figure out how the gut might affect the way drugs work and whether they could exploit the enteric signaling network in creating new drugs. 

“The gut—which is home to trillions of bacteria, 70 percent of our immune cells, and 500 million neurons—is truly a command center, transmitting constant messages and signals throughout the body that affect our propensity for disease,” Kintai co-founder David Berry, M.D., Ph.D., general partner at Flagship Pioneering, said in a statement. 

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There are myriad ways to target the enteric signaling system, from aiming at immune cells in the gut to trigger an anti-inflammatory effect elsewhere in the body to interfering with gut neurons to prompt an effect in the brain without needing a drug to cross the blood-brain barrier, Tak told FierceBiotech. 

That's the “enteric” side of Kintai’s medicines. As for the “precision” part, the drugs “can be designed in such a way that they are activated precisely where you want them to be activated,” Tak said. 

Kintai uses its Precision Enteric Medicines (PEM) discovery platform to identify and develop small molecules, designing drugs with a “biogeographic attribute” that directs the drug to a precise location where it will have the most impact, the company said in the statement. The company can’t give away its secret sauce, of course, but the technology uses a mix of chemistry, human biology, immunology, microbiology and artificial intelligence to discover and design drugs. It plans to start clinical trials for programs in metabolic syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease in 2020. 

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Tak brings with him a wealth of experience, starting out in academia, spinning out a biotech company and joining GSK, where he worked for seven years as chief immunology officer and the global R&D head for immuno-inflammation, oncology and infectious diseases. 

Tak said Kintai is about 60-strong—mostly scientists—and that he plans to keep the team lean. As the company moves toward the clinic, he’ll look to add to its translational, experimental medicine and development teams while keeping the company is nimble as possible.