Synthekine Eyes More Cytokine Advancements with $82M in Funding


Engineered cytokine therapeutics company Synthekine announced on Thursday that it has concluded an $82 million Series A funding round. The financing was co-led by Canaan Partners, Samsara BioCapital and The Column Group, with participation from other undisclosed investors. Synthekine was originally founded by K. Christopher Garcia, Ph.D., to leverage discoveries in the cytokine realm.

The proceeds from the funding round will be used to advance the company’s lead therapeutic programs into clinical studies, as well as expand its discovery pipeline and hone its proprietary cytokine engineering platforms.

Synthekine currently has two lead programs in development: STK-012, an engineered Interleukin-2 (IL-2) partial agonist for the treatment of cancer; and a combination of STK-009 and SYNCAR-001, an orthogonal IL-2 ligand and a CD-19 CAR-T-cell therapy being studied together.

“Cytokines have a fundamental role in the immune system and represent an enormous opportunity for innovative therapeutics. However, most cytokines broadly activate a wide range of cells that can simultaneously stimulate and suppress the immune system, making drug development against these targets challenging,” said Debanjan Ray, chief executive officer of Synthekine.

Synthekine is focused on leveraging immunological insights to guide targeted protein engineering to generate transformative medicines. Cancer and autoimmune disorders are focal points for Synthekine.

Cytokines have been in the news as of late for their connection to COVID-19. Large amounts of a cytokine called TNF appear to prevent the formation of germinal centers within the bodies of COVID-19 patients. Without germinal centers, there are not enough B cells that can create a high-quality antibody response to product long-term immunity to the disease.

Robert Padera, MD, Ph.D., associate professor at Harvard Medical School, says that this does not mean there is not an immune response – the immune response is simply not originating from a germinal center.

“Without the formation of germinal centers, there is unlikely to be long-term memory to this virus developing from natural infections, meaning that while antibodies may protect people for a relatively short time, a single person who recovers from the disease could get infected again, perhaps six months later, or even multiple times with SARS-CoV-2,” said Shiv Pillai, MD, Ph.D., investigator in the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard and professor at Harvard Medical School. “This suggests that developing herd immunity may be difficult.”

Pillai and Padera’s findings, however, do not mean that a vaccine would not be effective against COVID-19, as vaccines do not encourage cytokine storms. A vaccine-induced immune response would most likely include the development of a germinal center.

Cytokines are known to be powerful regulators of the immune system, and can stimulate a wide range of immune cells. This is driven by their binding and interaction with cell surface receptors. Existing cytokine therapeutics have shown meaningful efficacy in cancer and other diseases. However, they are often limited by significant side effects.

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