More than 100 years ago William B. Coley used bacterial toxins to goad the immune system into recognizing cancer cells as foreign to mount an immune response to kill them. Today, immunotherapy is rapidly evolving from therapies that nonspecifically stimulate the immune system to more targeted ones that activate individual components of the immune system, revolutionizing cancer care. However, these therapies are based on large molecules that limits the interaction and uptake by the tumor, and failing to penetrate tissue to reach their target cells severely reduce the overall efficiency of the treatment.
The Connecticut-based startup Kleo Pharmaceuticals is focused on developing a new class of targeted immunotherapies. They are developing small molecules, Antibody Recruiting Molecules (ARMs) and Synthetic Antibody Mimics (SyAMs), with a much lower molecular weight than current therapeutic antibodies. ARMs are ‘two-headed’ chemical structures designed to have one head interact with disease-relevant molecular target, while the other head interacts directly with antibodies present in a person’s bloodstream. SyAMs are synthetic molecules that possess both the targeting and effector cell activating functions of antibodies. Both drugs recruit the immune system to target and kill disease-specific cells.
Kleo Pharmaceuticals was founded on the research of David A. Spiegel, a professor of Chemistry and Pharmacology at Yale University. The groundbreaking technology represent a great advancement in the field of immunotherapy, being easier to produce, more tractable to engineer, and non-immunogenic. The molecules are more than hundred times lighter than their biological counterparts, potentially infiltrating tissue more efficiently, making them safer and more effective than large proteins. Although very early, the technology could translate into cheaper, more efficient therapies with fewer side effects for a wide range of cancer types and indications.
Last year, Kleo was awarded the inaugural $50K Innovation Prize sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim and Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund as recognition of their work in developing their small molecules. The startup recently announced the completion of its Series A funding, led by Biohaven Pharmaceutical Holding Company, which will support the development of the ARMs and SyAMs.