ONK Therapeutics Opens US R&D Operations and Appoints Head of R&D, USA

  • ONK opens US operations and becomes a resident of Johnson & Johnson Innovation JLABS @ San Diego
  • Rohit Duggal Ph.D. appointed as Head of R&D, USA
  • ONK Therapeutics, Inc. formed, to facilitate the expansion of operations in the USA, alongside its growing hub in Galway, Ireland

Galway, Ireland and San Diego, USA, 12 November 2020

ONK Therapeutics Ltd, an innovative natural killer (NK) cell therapy company, today announced that it has been accepted to become a resident at Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS @ San Diego. It is also pleased to announce that it has appointed Rohit Duggal Ph.D. to Head of R&D, USA, as its first employee based at its San Diego operations and has incorporated a US subsidiary, ONK Therapeutics, Inc.

ONK is growing rapidly, expanding its pre-clinical R&D and manufacturing capabilities, to progress its novel, dual-targeted, natural killer (NK) cell therapy platform towards human clinical trials. In October the company closed a new financing round, led by US-based investor Acorn Bioventures.

Located in the heart of the Torrey Pines Mesa alongside world-class research institutes, JLABS @ San Diego is Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s flagship facility, opened in 2012. It is home to over 50 resident biotech startup companies and has over 90 alumni companies within its network. JLABS @ San Diego’s life science lab space reflects the region’s leadership in the fields of genomics, precision medicine, cell therapy, and the microbiome – with about 70% of resident biotech companies developing therapeutic potential solutions in these areas.

Rohit Duggal Ph.D. joins as Head of R&D, USA from NantKwest, an innovative clinical-stage cellular-immunotherapy company, where he led the primary lymphocyte product development program. He is an experienced industry-research leader who specializes in establishing and advancing cell therapy and immuno-oncology platforms for product development. He has 22 years of industry experience that spans cellular immunotherapy, immuno-oncology, oncolytic virotherapy, translational oncology, and antiviral drug discovery. Previous experience includes Sorrento Therapeutics, where he played a role in developing the immuno-oncology franchise that included next-generation NK cell product development. He started his industry career at Agouron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. now a subsidiary of Pfizer where he was responsible for working on antiviral and oncology programs from drug discovery and translational research through to delivering clinical candidates. Rohit received his Ph.D. from Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA.

Rohit will report to ONK Therapeutics’ founder and CSO, Prof. Michael O’Dwyer, MD. Welcoming Rohit to the team, Prof. O’Dwyer said, “I am delighted to welcome Rohit to support our goal of developing best-in-class, off-the-shelf, dual-targeted NK cell therapies targeting solid and hematological cancers. His expertise in cell therapy approaches for immuno-oncology treatments and industry-research will be invaluable. We will be expanding our US-based operations and team rapidly under Rohit’s leadership and expect to recruit several R&D specialists to the team in the weeks ahead. JLabs @ San Diego is a perfect location and we are very pleased to have been accepted into the facility, as the area is a hot-bed for NK cell therapy companies and expertise, with the University of California San Diego (UCSD), Fate Therapeutics, Artiva, and Nantkwest all located in the cluster.”

Rohit Duggal Ph.D. said, “It’s an exciting time to be joining ONK, as it transitions to become a clinical-stage company and progresses several of its unique dual-targeted NK cell therapy programs through IND enabling studies. I am confident that being based at the impressive JLABS @ San Diego will facilitate cutting-edge work, recruitment and support our US expansion.”

To facilitate its US expansion, the company has incorporated ONK Therapeutics, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of ONK Therapeutics Ltd.  Alongside expansion and recruitment in the USA, the company is also expanding its team and operations in Galway, Ireland.


ONK Therapeutics www.onktherapeutics.com

ONK Therapeutics Ltd is an innovative cell therapy company dedicated to developing the next generation of ‘off-the-shelf’, dual-targeted NK cell therapies targeting solid and hematological cancers.

The company was founded in 2015, by Prof. O’Dwyer MD, of NUI Galway, an expert in translational multiple myeloma research, the tumor microenvironment, and exploitation of NK cells as cellular immunotherapy. Its core proprietary platform is based on a dual-targeted NK cell expressing both a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) targeting a known tumor antigen and a TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand variant (TRAILv) targeting the death receptor pathway (i.e. DR4 or DR5). This unique approach has the potential to enhance efficacy by addressing both intrinsic (e.g. CAR engagement of a tumor-specific antigen) and extrinsic (e.g. signaling through the death receptor pathway) apoptotic pathways and to reduce the susceptibility to possible target antigen escape through the engagement of tumor antigen-independent TRAILv.

The lead program, ONKT101, is a dual-targeted NK cell therapy incorporating a CD19 CAR and TRAILv targeting DR5, intended for the treatment of relapsed/refractory B cell malignancies. This program is partnered with Avectas, with the company having responsibility for development to Phase 1. The company’s second program, ONKT102, combines an optimized affinity CD38 CAR and a TRAILv targeting DR5, intended for the treatment of patients with relapsed/refractory multiple myeloma.

In addition to the unique dual-targeted NK cell therapy platform, the company has a strong research focus on strategies to enhance homing and persistence, and overcome exhaustion, including the exploration of proprietary gene edits, such as the deletion of checkpoint inhibitory receptors in NK cells.

ONK Therapeutics is headquartered in the med-tech hub of Galway, Ireland, with a wholly-owned US subsidiary, ONK Therapeutics, Inc. based at JLabs @ San Diego. Shareholders include Acorn Bioventures, ALSHC (principally Seamus Mulligan), and Enterprise Ireland.

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