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Start-Up Developing Immunometabolism Therapies, Gains $30M Funding

T-cells illustration

T-cells (

8 Oct. 2018. A start-up enterprise founded by medical researchers in the U.S. and Europe is developing treatments for cancer and autoimmune disorders that change chemical reactions in immune system cells. The biotechnology company Sitryx, based in Oxford, U.K., is also raising $30 million in its first venture funding round.

Sitryx creates therapies that invoke the immune system by regulating metabolic functions in immune system cells. Those cells generally remain in a quiet state until called upon to react to conditions such as infection or inflammation. When immune system cells respond they work through several pathways and mechanisms that produce proteins such as cytokines and enzymes, as well as other signaling compounds that can affect other cells and tissue in the body. These chemical changes in immune system cells are the aim of Sitryx’s work, focusing on therapies that correct malfunctioning immune system cells contributing to tumor growth and inflammation.

The company was founded by life science entrepreneur and investor Houman Ashrafian, a partner at SV Health Investors in London, with five immunologists and cell biologists in Europe and the U.S.:

Luke O’Neill, immunologist and molecular biologist at Trinity College Dublin, who studies innate immunity and inflammation

Jonathan Powell, cancer specialist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, studying T-cell activation and tolerance

Jeff Rathmell, immunologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, researching immunometabolism

Michael Rosenblum, cell and molecular biologist at University of California in San Francisco, studying regulatory T-cells in skin and other tissue

Paul-Peter Tak, an immunologist formerly with GlaxoSmithKline, now researching autoimmune disorders at VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam

Sitryx is licensing intellectual property and chemical formulations from drug maker GlaxoSmithKline or GSK, also one of the company’s financial backers. The company says GSK became interested in the company through Sitryx’s involvement in the Immunology Network, a forum for collaboration and sharing research on immunology sponsored by Oxford in which GSK takes part.

John Lepore, senior vice president for research at GSK says in a Sitryx statement, “Immunology is at the heart of GSK’s new approach to R&D. Through our Immunology Network, we believe the emerging field of immunometabolism that Sitryx is focusing on has the potential to bring new therapeutic opportunities to patients for a broad range of diseases including cancer.”

The $30 million financing round for Sitryx is led by SV Health Investors that also provided the company’s seed funds, and Sofinnova Partners, a life science investment company based in Paris. Taking part in the round are GSK and Longwood Fund.

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