England’s biotech startup Sitryx out of the blocks with new I/O program. Stakes are high as Europe’s science contending with US for top global developers.

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The News:

Sitryx Therapeutics Ltd. (London) has launched with the goal of treating cancer and inflammatory conditions by targeting the metabolism of immune cells, a promising new area of research. The new company has kicked off with a €26M ($29.9M) Series A round co-led by two specialized investors, SV Health and Sofinnova Partners. Sitryx also has investment from GlaxoSmithKline PLC, with which the company will be working closely, accessing its technology, intellectual property and chemicals.

The company will focus on immunometabolism, as it has been shown that changes in the metabolic pathways of immune cells play an important role in the development of a wide range of diseases. This field is gaining momentum thanks to its potential to provide new drug targets for cancer, inflammatory and autoimmune conditions.

“While the fundamentals of cell metabolism are well understood there is a fast-emerging area of research focused on the druggable potential of these pathways in immune cells to treat diseases,” CEO Neil Weir, who previously worked as SVP of Discovery at UCB Pharma, said.

“Druggable” describes the ability of a portion of a genome to be targeted by a drug, especially by a small molecule.

“Correcting immune cell function or inhibiting tumor cell growth through targeting metabolic pathways has the potential to deliver new approaches to treat a wide range of severe diseases, particularly in the areas of immuno-oncology and immuno-inflammation,” Weir added.

The company currently has six undisclosed projects in the pipeline. Weir expects the funding to enable Sitryx to take one of them to the stage where it’s approved to start clinical trials, and have a second ready for preclinical studies if the projects progress as planned. (Ref: Labiotech.eu)

Steve’s Take:

Some start-ups just plain reek of potentially wild success. That would be Sitryx, in my view. Why? Simple. First, it’s backed by pharma goliath GlaxoSmithKline. And although plenty of such startups start off with sky-high hopes, they still fail to even get their toe into clinic and wind up on the trash heap.

But more notably, Sitryx intends to use its funding to address a broad range of immunometabolic targets in another approach that doesn’t focus on the current rage of checkpoint inhibitors (CI) such as Merck & Co.’s I/O king Keytruda, or Novartis’s CAR-T phenom, Kymriah. Instead, BioSpace reports the company is taking a different approach, saying it has assembled a portfolio of products that will address oncology and immuno-inflammatory indications through differentiated chemistry approaches, including small molecules, proteolysis targeting chimera (PROTACS) and topical formulations.

In other words, Sitryx is vectoring off from the currently overcrowded checkpoint inhibitor and CAR-T mob and going forth with the next “new” approach. And that’s what excites investors; trust me. But let’s step back from the giddy train for a moment and consider some crucial facts pertaining to NOW.

Not only is Sitryx supported financially by GSK, but the fledgling company also said it is working closely with GSK’s drug-discovery teams. This also is huge. That cooperation between the startup and the global powerhouse underscores the larger company’s long-term commitment to developing immuno-associated treatments. In July, GSK’s R&D head, Hal Barron, unveiled the company’s new strategy that focuses on new treatments through modulating the immune system.

“Immunology is at the heart of GSK’s new approach to R&D,” John Lepore, GSK’s head of research said in a statement. “Through our Immunology Network, we believe the emerging field of immunometabolism that Sitryx is focusing on has the potential to bring new therapeutic opportunities to patients for a broad range of diseases including cancer. Our investment in Sitryx will allow us to access this exciting science through working closely with world-renowned academic scientists in an open collaborative way.”

Sitryx said it has received access to “certain GSK technologies” as well as the licensing of intellectual property, including chemical matter, from GSK. GlaxoSmithKline’s interest in Sitryx arose from work within the Immunology Network, a unique open collaboration initiative connecting GSK to the work of academic scientists and their novel immunology research, the company said.

In addition to GSK, the Sitryx funding round was supported by SV Health Investors LLP (London, Boston), Sofinnova Partners (Paris) and Longwood Fund LLC (Boston). Sitryx noted specifically that the investment will be used to develop disease-modifying therapies in immuno-oncology and immuno-inflammation.

“The area of immunometabolism and the role of metabolic pathways in immune cell function is a hot new area of focus for some companies,” the company said in a statement.

Sitryx said changes to these pathways have been shown to be pivotal in the development of a number of severe diseases, including a range of cancer and autoimmune conditions. Correcting immune cell function and/or inhibiting tumor cell growth through immunometabolic therapies have the potential to be key, complementary and highly differentiated approaches to treating disease, Sitryx said.

Sitryx will be led by Neil Weir, who was most recently senior vice president of discovery at UCB Pharma.

“Immunometabolism is an extremely exciting and compelling scientific area and, at Sitryx, we have seen that modulation of these key cellular pathways has broad therapeutic potential across multiple disorders with unmet medical need, particularly in the areas of immuno-oncology and immuno-inflammation,” Weir said in a statement.

Sitryx co-founders include Houman Ashrafian, partner at SV Health Investors; Luke O’Neill, professor of biochemistry at Trinity College Dublin; Jonathan Powell, associate director of the Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at Johns Hopkins University; Jeff Rathmell, director of the Vanderbilt Center for Immunobiology; Michael Rosenblum of the UCSF School of Medicine; and Paul Peter Tak, the former chief immunology officer at GSK.

Bottom Line:

This name has a lot going for it, albeit its toe isn’t even on the clinical starting line yet. But look at who’s backing it. Some of the biggies in this realm. A diamond in the rough and a rational bet, rather than a pure gamble. If and when you can get a piece of it, buy, says I. It’s totally speculative now and will be for some time.

I’ll keep a close eye out as its science progresses, but remember the funny name, Sitryx. Its nouveaux treatment approach and management appear to be solid, and endorsements by giants like GSK, although its quite early, are nevertheless crucial.

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