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Immunotherapy has made a major impact on the management of cancer and on the pharmaceutical industry, reaching a market of $160bn in 2021. However current approaches are focused on T cells and rely on pre-existing immune responses or targeting tumour antigens. Despite the benefits, most patients do not respond, and there is scope for new approaches to address the great unmet need.

Natural killer (NK) cells play a key role in early clearance of tumours without pre-existing immunity or tumour-antigen targeting. The clinical potential for NK cell therapy has already been shown, without toxicity or the need for logistically challenging autologous production required for T cell approaches. However, this avenue has been blocked because NK cells cannot readily be scaled up and show “exhaustion” with very significant reduction in potency.

NK:IO have developed a proprietary method for the differentiation and expansion of NK cells without exhaustion. The company has a therapeutics pipeline comprising: (a) cell therapy based on expansion of NK cells from progenitors, (b) cell therapy using super-active engineered NK cells from progenitors and (c) small molecule therapeutics that enhance NK cell expansion in vivo.

NK:IO is a spin out of Imperial College (London) and Start Codon were joined in its initial investment by co-investors, Dr Jonathan Milner and UKI2S. The company has since raised additional finance from Imperial Innovations Seed Funds.

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