Having lined up two marquee partners — Celgene and Merck — and gained recognition for its natural killer platform technology, Dragonfly Therapeutics is ready to roll with some of its own programs.
The biotech upstart is dedicating $10 million to launch its first clinical studies, which will be conducted in collaboration with the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and evaluated in both solid tumor and hematological cancers.
Dragonfly’s platform centers on TriNKETs (Tri-specific, NK cell Engager Therapies), a binding mechanism that links natural killer cells to the proteins found on the surface of cancer cells. And that kind of approach, they believe, can create a potent next-gen immunotherapy approach — potentially a big deal for a company like Merck or Celgene.
NK cells have become a popular target in cancer R&D over the last few years as I/O has swelled in importance, with Patrick Soon-Shiong’s extensive biotech organization working on a similar idea. But Tyler Jacks, director of the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and Berkeley’s David Raulet believed they had something new and vital that compelled them to start Dragonfly with entrepreneur and filmmaker Bill Haney.
Haney, the CEO, has built up a team — 40-strong at last count — without traveling down the usual venture road, relying instead on seed money from some of his well-heeled friends and “amplification capital” from partners.
The new partners haven’t disclosed which programs they are taking to the clinic or which indications they will begin with, but they did suggest that John Heymach, MD Anderson’s chair of thoracic head & neck medical oncology, will be involved.
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