Originally published by Bayer.com
Pyxis Oncology (“Pyxis”), a newly formed immuno-oncology company, launched today with a focus on developing a new family of antibody-based immunotherapies derived from novel insights into the biology of the tumor microenvironment. Leaps by Bayer led the Company’s USD 22 million Series A financing and was joined by additional institutional and strategic investors including Agent Capital, Ipsen and Longwood Fund. Pyxis was founded by Thomas Gajewski, MD, PhD, professor of Medicine, Pathology and the Ben May Cancer Institute at the University of Chicago Medicine; Longwood Fund; and John Flavin, seasoned life sciences executive and entrepreneur; with the support of the University of Chicago Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
For more than two decades, Dr. Gajewski has studied the role of T cells in the body’s defense against cancer. His work has led to a new understanding of the tumor microenvironment and unlocked multiple new avenues to restore activity to dysfunctional T cells and turn immunologically “cold” tumors “hot.” Pyxis is applying these insights to develop a pipeline of antibodies aimed at newly discovered immuno-oncology targets. This could potentially create a new way to treat patients that don’t respond to currently available therapies.
“With our systematic approach for understanding the immunobiology of the tumor microenvironment, which is distinct from other inflammatory disease settings, we have uncovered multiple novel molecules that regulate immune responses against cancer,” said Dr. Gajewski. “These molecules represent promising immuno-oncology targets, both for T cell-inflamed tumors and also for non-T cell-inflamed or ‘cold’ tumors, for which there is a large unmet need.”
Unlike traditional immuno-oncology development programs, which in many cases originated from infectious disease inflammation models, Pyxis’s approach centers on the most relevant tumor-reactive T cells from the core of growing tumors. By focusing on the unique biology of T cells within tumors, Pyxis identified immunoregulatory targets tied directly to biology of the tumor microenvironment. Pyxis has generated data on these targets through genetic and interventional preclinical proof of concept studies that suggest the potential for new effective foundational monotherapies or use in combination with other cancer therapies.
The ultimate goal of curing or preventing cancer is an area of engagement and investment for Leaps by Bayer, as these therapies in oncology represent one of today’s most important health challenges. Dr. Juergen Eckhardt, head of Leaps by Bayer, said: “We are very excited about the potential of Pyxis’s platform. This is a powerful approach that could lead to the discovery of new targets and therefore novel drugs that can overcome current limitations in the oncology field.”
Pyxis is led by an experienced management team and Board of Directors and has assembled a world-class Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) made up of leading authorities in immunology and cancer research. Leaps by Bayer will be actively participating in the Pyxis investment via two representatives on the company’s Board, Dr. Lucio Iannone and Dr. Jak Knowles. In addition, Dr. Vemuri of Agent Capital has also joined the Board in conjunction with the financing. The Board of Directors will be chaired by John Flavin and David Steinberg, Partner at Longwood Fund, will serve as Pyxis’s Chief Executive Officer.
“Immunotherapies have revolutionized the way many cancers are treated, yet they have not been successful in addressing large groups of patients,” said Steinberg. “We believe the antibodies we develop directed against T cell and tumor targets will have the potential to help new patient populations not currently served by today’s therapies.”
Pyxis’s SAB will be chaired by Dr. Gajewski and will include:
• Michael B. Atkins, MD, Deputy Director of the Georgetown-Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Scholl Professor and Vice Chair of the Department of Oncology at Georgetown University School of Medicine.
• Lisa H. Butterfield, PhD, Vice President of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy and Adjunct Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of California, San Francisco.
• Alan Korman, PhD, Senior Vice President of Human Immunology at Vir Biotechnology and Former Vice President of Immuno-Oncology Discovery at Bristol-Myers Squibb.
• Jason Luke, MD, FACP, Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of the Cancer Immunotherapeutics Center at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.