The biotechnology start-up Ambagon Therapeutics has raised 75 million euros (85 million dollars) in a financing round. With the money, the Dutch-American company will develop medicines that can be used to better treat cancer in the future. Ambagon was founded in 2020 on the basis of a number of years of research at TU Eindhoven by Eline Sijbesma, Loes Stevers and others.
An example of the TU/e-based research that has acted as the foundation for Ambagon comes from Eline Sijbesma. In her research, she created a molecular glue that provides a starting point for the development of drugs to treat breast cancer. The glue also offers good prospects for the development of medicines for, among others, diabetes and cystic fibrosis. The results were published in Nature Communications in 2020.
Ambagon currently employs 20 people; half on the TU/e campus in Eindhoven and half in San Francisco. Thanks to the new funding, the company plans to double this number in Eindhoven. TU/e professor of Chemical Biology Luc Brunsveld founded the start-up together with TU associate professor Christian Ottmann (Molecular Cell and Structural Biology) and Michelle Arkin (professor at the University of California).
KEEPING IT IN CHECK
The team is currently working on developing further the molecular glue, a drug that makes it possible to better control disease-causing proteins. "In healthy people, their cells are in balance. When someone is ill, such as with cancer, their cells are thrown out of balance," Brunsveld explains. "Proteins can be the cause of this; when proteins mutate, they become overactive and therefore do not function properly. This can contribute to the growth of tumours, for example."
Other proteins can actually address this imbalance by keeping the diseased proteins in check and stalling tumour growth. The activity of these 'good' proteins can be helped through the use of specific drugs. However, until now, this has only been successful if the protein causing the disease has a clear structure, and this is not always the case. Often, the proteins associated with cancer growth have an unclear structure.
Researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology and the University of California have therefore developed a molecule that gives 'good' proteins access to diseased causing proteins without a clear structure. This molecule links these two proteins together, creating the much-needed access, the so-called molecular glue. If this is further developed into a fully-fledged medicine, it will enable better cancer treatment, amongst other things.
However, it will be years before the glue can be used as a medicine. Before this can happen, thorough pre-clinical and clinical studies will need to taken place. Brunsveld is very pleased with the current progress and the confidence of investors. "In our academic lab, we have laid the foundation on which we can build further. We are very pleased that we can take major steps in the further development of medicines that will enable us to better treat cancer. Our goal is for these drugs to form the basis of various cancer treatments in the future."
The funding round was led by Nextech Invest. An earlier seed round was funded by RA Capital Management, Droia Ventures, Inkef Capital, AbbVie Ventures, MRL Ventures Fund, and Mission BioCapital. Investors from the seed all joined the current Series A funding round, along with new investor Surveyor Capital (Citadel).
This article was first published on 6 January by TU/e.