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22 May 2018

Technology of the Year: Palleon Pharmaceuticals

Palleon Pharmaceuticals, Stanford University & University of Dundee, has been named Technology of the Year by Global University Venturing

Author: Chris Torney, reporter

A breakthrough medical innovation that has been created to help the human body’s immune system to detect and attack cancer cells has been named Technology of the Year at the 2018 Global University Venturing awards.

The development of the first glycoimmune checkpoint inhibitors by Palleon Pharmaceuticals – which is based on research carried out by experts at Stanford University and University of Dundee – resulted in the company closing a series A round worth $46.7m in October 2017.

The round involved the participation of a number of high-profile healthcare corporate venturing units, such as Pfizer Ventures, Takeda Ventures and AbbVie Ventures, and it was led by SR One, the investment arm of pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline. Another investor was Vertex Ventures, the venture capital arm of the Singaporean state-owned investment agency Temasek, through its Vertex Healthcare fund.

The technology that has been key both to Palleon’s successful round and its victory in this year’s GUV awards focuses on a type of immune cells known as glycoimmune checkpoints. Under normal circumstances, these checkpoints are able to identify and respond to any cells that pose a threat to health. But cancer cells are able to trick these checkpoints into taking no action – thereby allowing tumours to grow unhindered.

The approach developed by Palleon means that researchers will be better able to develop therapies that can boost the immune systems of cancer sufferers and help them destroy cancer cells.

The academics behind Palleon are Carolyn Bertozzi, the Anne and Robert Bass professor of chemistry at Stanford University, and Paul Crocker, professor of glycoimmunology and head of the division of cell signalling and immunology at University of Dundee. It was a combination of Bertozzi’s work in the field of tumor glycoscience and Crocker’s research into human immunology that created the breakthrough that is being taken advantage of by Palleon.

At the time of the series A funding, Palleon’s co-founder and CEO Jim Broderick said: “The most meaningful breakthroughs often occur at the intersection of diverse and seemingly unrelated scientific disciplines.

“Palleon was spawned by bringing together new findings in glycoscience and human immunology, which resulted in unexpected implications for oncology. The convergence of these two fields has enabled us to develop a novel class of medicines that could have a significant impact on the lives of cancer patients.”

Bertozzi added: “We now know that tumours evolve in such a way that their cell surface glycans ‘trick’ the immune system, which prevents many types of immune cells from detecting and destroying cancer cells. We are using this knowledge to develop new and innovative cancer therapies for patients.”

Palleon was incubated in the SR One offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Broderick was entrepreneur-in-residence.

The company revealed it made further progress at the start of 2018 when Palleon announced that it had signed an exclusive licensing agreement with King’s College London. The deal involves King’s licensing intellectual property relating to breast-cancer research developed in the lab of professor Joy Burchell in the university’s Faculty of Life Sciences and Medicine.

Broderick said: “Professor Burchell’s research is at the forefront of understanding how tumours use glycans to evade the immune system.

“This licensing agreement strengthens Palleon’s position as the leader in this new approach to defeating cancer’s suppression of the human immune system.”

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