French Startup Secures €2.3M to Advance Cancer RNA Immunotherapy

bladder cancer immunotherapy tollys

Lyon-based biopharmaceutical company Tollys has closed a Series A funding round of €2.3M to bring its lead RNA immunotherapy candidate to clinical trials in people with bladder cancer.

The round was closed on the basis of the company reaching preclinical proof-of-concept for the drug. It brings the total amount raised by Tollys to €6.4M since the company was founded in 2015 by scientists at the European Cancer Research Center of Lyon. 

The funds will be used to complete the preclinical development of Tolly’s lead cancer immunotherapy drug. The round will also fund the manufacture of the drug for the start of clinical trials in people with bladder cancer by late 2021 or early 2022.

Tollys’ lead candidate drug is a double-stranded RNA molecule that activates a protein called toll-like receptor 3 (TLR3), which is found on the surface of tumor cells.

When activated, TLR3 kills cancer cells and puts innate immune cells such as dendritic cells on high alert. The immune system is then trained by antigens from dead cancer cells to kill the cancer cells that weren’t destroyed by the drug and prevent regrowth of the tumor via a vaccination-type mechanism.

Tollys isn’t the only company developing a double-stranded RNA molecule to hit TLR3 in cancer. For example, Hiltonol — currently developed by the US company Oncovir in clinical trials for a wide range of cancers — consists of a mix of double-stranded RNA and small molecules. However, Tollys’ CEO Vincent Charlon told me that his startup’s cancer immunotherapy stands out with its stability and reproducible manufacturing process. 

Charlon said the company is starting with bladder cancer because the tumors are known to be sensitive to cancer immunotherapy, and the treatment can be easily administered via a urethral catheter.

Like bladder cancer, other solid tumors such as lung, breast, and colon cancer can also express the TLR3 protein and could therefore be a target of Tollys’ drug or other TLR3 activators in future.

The European startup scene has been thriving in the field of immuno-oncology in the last several months. Examples of other recent Series A investments into European immuno-oncology startups include the €13M obtained in March by Austrian company OncoOne and the €10M secured in April by Montpellier-based Phost’in Therapeutics, which is developing a drug for oral cancer.

Image from Shutterstock

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