Houston: the true third coast of innovation. Texas is home to more than 5,400 life science R&D and manufacturing firms, with more than 106,000 workers employed in related fields (THBI). As one of the top global biotechnology hubs, and home to the largest medical center in the world (Texas Medical Center), it’s no wonder JLABS @ TMC is already linking regional entrepreneurs to global subject matter and R&D experts, as well as opportunities for funding, third-party services and educational events.
Asylia Therapeutics is one such company at the heart of Houston’s flourishing life science hub, and a JLABS @ TMC resident. We sat down virtually with Jeno Gyuris, Ph.D, Executive Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer at Asylia Therapeutics to talk more about the power of the human immune system and the spirit of Texas.
Q: To get us started, please describe the unmet medical need Asylia Therapeutics is seeking to solve.
JG: The human immune system is a powerful tool that helps differentiate between self and non-self antigens and maintains normal homeostasis. However, its activity can be suppressed in the setting of a variety of cancers, and this reduces the ability of patients to fight their disease. Conversely, the immune system can be over-activated in the setting of auto-immune diseases, and this stimulation can cause inappropriate host tissue damage. Asylia’s antibodies aim to target a key component of the antigen chaperone machinery, and work through the novel mechanism of immune balance restoration (IBR) by enhancing antigen processing in the setting of cancer, and reducing antigen presentation in auto-immune diseases.
Q: Immune balance restoration—particularly when cancer is present—sounds tricky. Tell us more about what approach Asylia uses.
JG: Immune modulating therapies are agents that work at least in part by modifying the patient’s immune system to either increase or decrease immune responses. These approaches can be harnessed both to enhance the strength of the immune response, as one would want to do in the setting of cancer or infection, and also to suppress immune responses, such as in auto-immune diseases, graft rejection, or cytokine release syndrome, a complication of other immune therapies. Asylia’s platform centers on a fundamental mechanism of immunity – the presentation of antigens to the immune system. It aims to lead antibody, ASY-77A, enhances antigen presentation by targeting the extracellular form of Heat shock protein (HSP70), a molecule central to antigen delivery to the immune system and stimulates anti-tumor immune responses.
Q: Why Texas for Asylia?
JG: Houston is the home of the Texas Medical Center, the world’s largest such complex and a hub for highly innovative laboratory, translational, and clinical research. All of our Founders—including Profs. Robert Orlowski and Richard Jones, who made the key discoveries behind Asylia’s technology platform, and Prof. Ronald DePinho—are at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, making Houston a natural place to launch the company. Finally, Texans are known for their independent, entrepreneurial spirit and can-do attitude, which is an ideal environment in which to launch and grow a biotechnology firm.
Q: What led you to JLABS @ TMC?
JG: JLABS @ TMC provides a unique, innovative environment with excellent core resources for start-up companies making the challenging process of launching a company more attainable. The nurturing environment at JLABS allows fledgling companies to focus on developing their scientific platform and establishing the necessary infrastructure to drive its discoveries forward.
Asylia hopes to leverage the experience and expertise of our colleagues at JLABS and Johnson & Johnson Innovation to smooth out our pathway to our first proof-of-concept clinical trials. And beyond that, to better understand how our unique technology can best improve patients’ life.
Q: We certainly support and encourage patient-centered care! What’s next—2021 and beyond?
JG: We look forward to selecting our first development candidate of our immunomodulatory antibodies in the cancer space and to additional proof of concept studies in auto-immune diseases. Our goal over the next decade is to obtain regulatory approval for our initial immunomodulatory antibodies to become a fully integrated commercial stage biopharma.
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