Swiss Company Raises €23M to Smash Cancer with Bacteria

Basel-based T3 Pharmaceuticals has closed its third financing round, worth over €23.3M (CHF 25M), to develop a bacterial cancer therapy.

Since T3 Pharma was spun off from the University of Basel in 2015, the firm has raised €37M (CHF 40M). The fundraiser included investors such as Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund, Reference Capital, and Wille Finance. These funds will be used to start a phase I/II trial of the company’s lead candidate, which targets solid tumors, in 2021.

This experimental treatment harnesses the ability of some bacteria, such as Yersinia enterocolitica, to inject proteins into human cells via a tiny needle-like apparatus called the T3S system, or T3SS. The company genetically engineers Y. enterocolitica to inject tumor cells with therapeutic proteins. This particular bacterium is able to accumulate in solid tumors thanks to the cancer cells’ ability to suppress the immune system, which would normally clear the bacteria.

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“The bacteria are not just a vehicle for the proteins, they are capable of expressing them over and over again, so they are also a manufacturing site for the therapeutic proteins,” Simon Ittig, CEO of T3 Pharmaceuticals told me. “Many different proteins can easily be engineered for expression and delivery by these bacteria, and multiple proteins can be delivered at once.” 

T3 Pharma’s protein delivery technology also allows the company to trigger specific immune pathways within tumors. If successful, this could foster recruitment and infiltration of immune cells into the tumor – simply said, activating the patient’s immune system to combat the tumor by itself.

There are several other companies also employing bacterial weapons against cancer, such as the French company APCure and the US firms Aduro Biotech and Advaxis. APCure, for example, uses the T3SS to inject immune cells with cancer cell fragments, which trains the immune system to kill tumors. According to Ittig, T3 Pharma is the only company to use Y. enterocolitica, and its technology is more versatile than that of its competitors.

The direct delivery of bioactive proteins via living bacteria is quite unique. Many other bacterial cancer therapy companies focus on vaccination approaches,” he said. Ittig added that many companies need immune cells to engulf the bacteria for the therapy to take effect, but T3 Pharma’s bacteria stay outside of the cell and can target many different types of cells.


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