Banking on the promise of the popular IL-15 cytokine, Merck Serono spinoff Calypso Biotech is the latest resident recruit to J&J’s European JLABS incubator in Belgium. Ready to shepherd its lead drug towards in-human studies, the Amsterdam-based startup has also raised €20 million (about $22.7 million) in Series A financing.
The round, announced on Wednesday, was led by Gilde Healthcare and Inkef Capital, and included the participation of Johnson & Johnson Innovation and Calypso’s founding investor M Ventures.
The company’s science revolves around IL-15 — a cytokine critical for the development, maintenance, and response of T cells, natural killer (NK) cells, NK T cells, and dendritic cells — that has garnered considerable attention in the immuno-oncology space. IL-15 is also being recognized as a key factor in the survival of tissue resident memory T cells — immune cells involved in disease maintenance and recurrence.
It is these resident memory T cells — and other cells types controlled by IL-15 that are crucial to the onset and maintenance of a large number of autoimmune, inflammatory and immune-metabolic diseases — that are Calypso’s focus. Its lead drug, CALY-002, is being primed for use in eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), a chronic allergic/immune condition characterized by an inflamed esophagus. The experimental treatment, which could also be potentially tested for NASH and atopic dermatitis, has already secured orphan drug status from US and EU regulators.
“(The) unique immunological insight and understanding for the role of IL15 in disease brought by founders Alain Vicari and Yolande Chvatchko is now ready for translation into a therapy for patients with EoE, for whom limited therapies are available today, as well as in several large auto-immune indications,” said Inkef’s Fiona MacLaughlin in a statement.
The Calypso team has also swelled. Bernard Coulie, CEO of Pliant Therapeutics, is to be appointed as independent chairman of the board, while Bart Lambrecht from the VIB-UGent Center for Inflammation Research in Belgium is joining the company’s biotech scientific advisory board. In addition, Arthur Franken from Gilde Healthcare has been appointed to the company’s board.
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