Apple Tree Partners leaps across the pond to launch a UK biotech looking to crack the secrets of dendritic cells
Once largely a mystery to researchers, the far-flung realm of cells in the immune system has emerged as a fruitful sandbox for drug developers. A new UK biotech is leaning on research into the growing role of dendritic cells in spurring immune responses, and US venture firm Apple Tree Partners is bankrolling its early efforts.
London-based Adendra Therapeutics launched Tuesday with $53 million from founding investor ATP and research out of the Francis Crick Institute looking to leverage new insights into how dendritic cells sic predatory T cells onto tumors — and their role in driving autoimmune disease.
Leveraging research out of the lab of Caetano Reis e Sousa, Adendra starts life with cutting-edge research into dendritic cells under its belt and a hefty paycheck to boot.
Reis e Sousa, who helped kickstart the company as scientific co-founder, pointed to dendritic cells’ dual role in both taking pieces of foreign bodies and presenting them to T cells for identification but also acting as T cells’ “on-off” switch. Newer research has also pointed to those cells’ role in “goading” prolonged T cell activation, which means dendritic cells not only turn T cells on or off but also tell them how long to engage their target.
“It’s not just about triggering it but also about continuing to push the response forward,” he told Endpoints News. “That is important particularly in the context of autoimmunity when you actually want to interrupt that cycle. You can think of it as a therapeutic target where you can effectively try and block these positive signals coming from the dendritic cells, thereby breaking the cycle that is leading to continual activation of those T cells.”
With that potential in mind, ATP and entrepreneur-in-residence Raj Mehta, now interim CEO, approached Reis e Sousa about the potential for a biotech startup, with Mehta saying the wide-ranging potential for the platform caught the venture firm’s eye.
“We sat down together about a year ago and said, this is an interesting area of biology, we want to learn more about how we can translate the research and work together to set up the company,” Mehta said.
Adendra, of course, isn’t the only biotech pursuing breakthroughs in dendritic cell biology, a hot area for drug development given those cells’ key regulatory role in the immune system. BioNTech, for instance, is working on using mRNA to help present targeted antigens in dendritic cells — similar to the way its Pfizer-partnered Covid-19 vaccine works.
Now emerged from stealth, Adendra is working on building out a pipeline with eyes on a range of therapeutic modalities a possibility, Mehta said. The one thing Mehta definitively said Adendra would not pursue is cell therapy.
In an unusual working arrangement, Adendra’s actual corporate team will be a bare-bones operation in the short term, with research handled by scientists under Reis e Sousa at Francis Crick. Mehta will look to bring on a full-time CEO to head the company’s next phase within the next two years as well as hire experienced executives to take the company forward.