Drug Development

Oxford spinout Argonaut looks to hack cancer cells and program them to die

Nick La Thangue, University of Oxford

Nick La Thangue, University of Oxford

A new Oxford oncology spinout is joining the biotech ranks in the UK’s Golden Triangle.

The brainchild of Nick La Thangue, chair of cancer biology at the University of Oxford, Argonaut Therapeutics is looking to hack cancer cells and trigger their destruction.

The biotech is currently working on some preclinical candidates that target PRMT5, an enzyme that controls a “switch” or transcription factor that binds to DNA and either turns on a signal for the cell to proliferate or pushes it into apoptosis, or cell death mode. And the upstart is focused on colorectal cancer and lymphoma, for starters, as it looks to advance a potential match for some of the immunotherapies coming into use.

La Thangue had this to say:

The beauty of this approach is that we can also predict whether tumors are likely to respond, as we can test whether the transcription factor is methylated or not. Our drug candidates target this transcription factor, with the aim of reinstating the body’s natural cell death processes, shrinking tumors naturally rather than causing general cytotoxicity, which is how many current cancer drugs work. We believe the combination of our approach and other new immunotherapies could mean physicians are able to tackle cancer in a different and potentially very powerful way.

The UK biotech hub anchored by London, Oxford and Cambridge has seen a whole new generation of companies springing up in recent years. Financing continues to be a problem, but a significant number of global investors have found their way here to back some of these startups, particularly focusing on oncology.

Oxford Sciences Innovation is seeding Argonaut.


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