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Oxford, Ludwig Institute Launch Immunotherapy Start-Up

Aerial view of Oxford, U.K.

Oxford, U.K. (chensiyuan, Wikimedia Commons)

9 July 2015. University of Oxford in the U.K. and Ludwig Cancer Research Institute are forming a spin-off enterprise to commercialize research by an Oxford immunology professor for cancer therapies. Financial details of the partnership to create iOx Therapeutics were not disclosed.

The new company is commercializing research from the lab of Oxford immunologist Vincenzo Cerundolo, who with colleagues in the U.K. and Germany, studies a type of immune system cell known as  invariant natural killer T cells, or iNKT cells. This cell expresses a receptor that responds to lipid ligands — specialized oily binding molecules — which Cerundolo and colleagues are investigating. These iNKT cells are associated with infectious disease, allergy, asthma, autoimmunity, and some types of cancer.

Cerundolo’s research, funded in part by the Ludwig Institute, is producing synthetic lipid compounds that can activate iNKT cells to stimulate an immune response to cancerous tumors. “Preclinical studies of our iNKT-activating compounds have been extremely promising,” says Cerundolo in a joint Ludwig-Oxford statement. “We’ve been able to show that these molecules can halt the progression of tumors in animal models.”

Evidence from Cerundolo and others suggests that iNKT cells play an important role in anti-tumor immune responses and could be effective with other immunotherapies. iOx Therapeutics is planning clinical trials of the iNKT-activating compounds at Oxford with patients having melanoma, an advanced and aggressive form of skin cancer, in combination with checkpoint inhibitors that overcome resistance by cancer cells to immune system attacks.

iOx Therapeutics is a brand-new spin-off from Isis Innovation, Oxford’s technology transfer subsidiary. Isis Innovation says iOx already attracted angel financing from life sciences and biotechnology investor Jim Mellon, also an Oxford graduate.

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