The German startup Tacalyx has raised €7M in a seed round to fund the preclinical development of first-in-class carbohydrate-targeting antibody drugs for the treatment of cancer.
The round was co-led by the Germany-based Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund and the French VC firm Kurma Partners. Tacalyx will use the money to generate a lead candidate antibody for the treatment of solid tumors, and fund animal studies of the drug over the next 18 months. By 2024, Tacalyx aims to have the drug in human trials.
“This is a fairly ambitious target given that the company has just been formed but we are confident of this timeline and that our platform can provide multiple potential leads over time,” Peter Sondermann, the CEO of Tacalyx, told me.
Tacalyx aims to treat tumors by targeting molecules found on the surface of many types of tumor cells called Tumor-Associated Carbohydrate Antigens (TACAs). These antigens appear when a cell transforms into a tumor cell and carbohydrate molecules on the cell surface become abnormal. TACAs help the tumor to grow and suppress the immune system, so blocking them with antibody drugs has the potential to kill the tumors they are attached to.
At present, it’s hard to produce antibodies against these molecules because the immune system is generally poor at reacting against carbohydrates, and TACAs are not usually seen as foreign bodies. In addition, it’s hard to synthesize TACAs to enable the production of antibodies. The team behind Tacalyx believes that the company can overcome these problems because its tech allows it to easily synthesize TACAs, which could speed up the development of antibodies.
According to Sondermann, there are several companies in the US that are also targeting TACAs, such as Palleon Pharmaceuticals. However, he is confident that Tacalyx’s technology stands out from these competitor companies. “We believe we are the only one to access synthetic complex TACAs enabled by our proprietary automated glycan assembly technology,” he said.
The crowded immuno-oncology field is a big focus for the biotech industry, with popular cancer treatments including CAR-T and checkpoint inhibitors. While TACAs have been used in cancer diagnostics for over 10 years, it remains to be seen if they will also prove an effective target for treating cancer.
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