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Cancer Research UK - Achilles Therapeutics launched with funds of £13.2 million to develop immunotherapies for cancer

Syncona LLP (link is external) and Cancer Research Technology (CRT) (link is external) announce the formation of Achilles Therapeutics Ltd yesterday.

The new private company will bring together world-class research from UCL (University College London) (link is external) and the Francis Crick Institute (link is external), funded by Cancer Research UK and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) (link is external).

Achilles Therapeutics will design therapies to target truncal tumour neo-antigens – unique flags to the immune system present on the surface of every cancer cell, which were first discovered by Cancer Research UK and the NIHR University College London Hospitals (UCLH) Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) funded scientists at the Francis Crick Institute and UCL Cancer Institute.

Truncal tumour neo-antigens are present on all cancer cells in an individual patient’s tumour but not on healthy cells, so could allow scientists to target and destroy tumours without harming healthy tissues.

Syncona and CRT, with the support of UCL Business (UCLB) (link is external) and the Crick, formed Achilles Therapeutics with a successful financing round of £13.2 million ($17.5 million) led by Syncona with the CRT Pioneer Fund (link is external) and the UCL Technology Fund (link is external).

The company founders bring together world-class capability from three prestigious institutions. They are:

  1. Professor Charles Swanton, Group Leader and Royal Society Napier Professor at the Francis Crick Institute and UCL Cancer Institute working on cancer evolution and genome instability and a consultant at UCLH
  2. Professor Karl Peggs, Group Leader of the Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Immunotherapy Group at UCL Cancer Institute and a consultant at UCLH
  3. Dr Sergio Quezada, Group Leader of the Immune Regulation and Tumour Immunotherapy Group at UCL Cancer Institute
  4. Professor Mark Lowdell, Director of the Centre for Cell, Gene & Tissue Therapeutics at the Royal Free Hospital.

CRT will receive equity milestones and royalties from products developed and commercialised by Achilles Therapeutics. Any such financial reward from the company will be shared with UCLB and the Crick.

The company has exclusive rights to develop and commercialise neo-antigen technologies arising from Cancer Research UK’s £14million TRACERx study (link is external). This clinical study, involving 850 people with non-small cell lung cancer, tracks the evolution of patients’ cancers over time, in different parts of their tumours and in response to treatment. It receives infrastructure support from the NIHR University College London Hospitals BRC and is being carried out at the Clinical Research Facility at UCLH.

Professor Charles Swanton, scientific founder of Achilles Therapeutics and a Group Leader at the Francis Crick Institute, said: “Our research could provide a truly personalised approach to lung cancer therapy by targeting cell surface markers that are specific to each patient and present on all cancer cells rather than just a subset of cells. We’re delighted to be able to bring this exciting science closer to the clinic. We hope to create a new and kinder treatment for this hard-to-treat disease that results in around 36,000 patient deaths each year in the UK *.”

Iraj Ali, Partner with Syncona LLP and Director of Achilles Therapeutics, said: “In founding Achilles we believe we are working with the world leaders capable of exploiting the confluence of two of the most exciting and innovative fields in healthcare today: cancer bioinformatics and immuno-therapy. Our ambition is to build a company to deliver personalised therapies with transformative potential for cancer patients with the greatest need.”

Chris Ashton, CEO of Achilles Therapeutics, said: “This company is underpinned by world-leading science, committed investors and leading health institutes. Bringing all of these major players together holds great promise for non-small cell lung cancer patients and I hope that working alongside one another we will see great successes in the future.”

Notes to Editor

* Calculated by the Statistical Information Team at Cancer Research UK, by applying the estimated proportion of non-small cell lung cancer cases (85%) to the annual average number of new lung cancer (ICD10 C33-C34) cases diagnosed in the UK between 2012-2014.

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