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VUB and EsoBiotec ready to transform cell therapy cancer treatments

  • November 15, 2021

EsoBiotec, a recently founded biotech company, announces a EUR 6 million pre-series A round comprised of non-dilutive funding from the Walloon Government combined with seed investments from venture capitalist Thuja Capital and regional funding agencies SRIW Life Sciences and Sambrinvest. 

In-patient cell engineering to upgrade immune cells’ capacity to identify and destroy cancer cells is the challenge taken on by the Walloon startup EsoBiotec, founded by Jean-Pierre Latere, and now collaborating with two VUB researchers and their teams: Nick Devoogdt from the Medical Imaging department (MIMA) and Karine Breckpot from the the Laboratory for Molecular and Cellular Therapy (LMCT).

The immune system can recognize cancer cells as these express unique proteins (tumor antigens). These antigens serve as an ‘ID’ for T cells, immune cells with their own unique proteins (receptors) that scan the ‘ID’ of cells. This knowledge led to the use of T cells in cancer immunotherapy. Therapy with T cells that were manipulated in the lab to express so-called 'chimeric antigen receptors' or CAR, improved man-made receptors, has proven efficacious in blood cancers. As a result, this CAR-T therapy is extensively being studied across a large number of other cancer types as well. 

Alas, this therapy is undeniably expensive, as it requires isolation of T cells from patients’ blood followed by their manipulation in the laboratory. Therefore, Esobiotec and VUB aim to develop cost-effective and off-the-shelf therapeutics that are inspired on this promising cancer immunotherapy. To achieve this goal, technologies developed at ICMI and LMCT will be leveraged to manipulate the cell directly in the blood, without having to isolate them first from the body. This disruptive approach holds the potential to transform the current standard of cell and gene therapies for cancer treatment.

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