The Danish company STipe Therapeutics has been launched with a €20M Series A to develop immunotherapy drugs that sensitize the innate immune system against cancer.
STipe Therapeutics was spun out from Aarhus University, Denmark, last year with a small grant, and has now completed its full launch with this Series A. The round was co-led by the Danish investor Novo Holdings and the UK VC firm Arix Bioscience. STipe will use the money to fund preclinical development of its first-in-class small molecule drugs for unspecified types of cancer.
STipe’s drugs target the protein STING, which is important for innate immunity. STING sits inside immune cells and activates like an alarm when it detects pathogen DNA, or fragments of DNA from tumor cells. This signal then tells immune cells in the tumor microenvironment to attack the tumor.
STipe’s treatments are designed to make the immune cells’ STING alarm signal more sensitive to tiny amounts of tumor cell DNA, helping them to sense and attack the tumor more effectively. The company also expects to develop these treatments in combination with approved cancer immunotherapies such as checkpoint inhibitor drugs, which fail to treat many patients.
The STING protein is also a target for others in the biotech industry. For example, Novartis is working with the US company Aduro Biotech to develop a phase II STING activator for head and neck cancer. The French startup Stimunity is also developing treatments to activate STING more easily by delivering the drugs into the cells using virus-like particles.
The innate immune system is a first-line defense system that attacks invading microbes and tumors using immune cells such as natural killer cells. The system’s rapid response to cancer has attracted the attention of biotech companies looking for new cancer treatments. For example, several companies such as the Dutch biotech Gadeta and the UK-based TC Biopharm are developing cell therapies based on immune cells important in the innate immune system called gamma delta T cells.
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