It is usually a long path from the initial idea in the biomedical laboratory to a new therapy for patients. This takes time – and above all, lots of money. For about 20 years, scientists at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC) and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin headed by Professor Thomas Blankenstein have been working on developing new cancer treatments using the body’s own immune cells whose receptors have been genetically modified in the laboratory. Blankenstein is investigating whether these modified T cells can stop cancer from developing. Two years ago, the scientist founded the company T-knife together with Elisa Kieback and Holger Specht and with support from Ascenion GmbH. The biotech start-up, which now has 18 employees, plans to develop new and highly sophisticated cancer therapeutics to treat tumors based on T-cell receptors.
T-knife will now receive €66 million in capital funding from four venture capital firms: Versant Ventures and RA Capital Management from the U.S. and the company’s seed investors Andera Partners and Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund. This was agreed by the V.C. firms on August 6 in a . Series A refers to large capital injections following the initial start-up financing. T-knife’s Series A round is the largest so far for a German company this year.
Professor Thomas Sommer, interim Scientific Director of the MDC, congratulated Blankenstein and his T-knife colleagues: “This is an outstanding success, which underlines how research by MDC teams finds its way into practical application, into clinics and to the patients. It also shows how important our cooperation with the Charité is in ensuring benefits for patients.” Blankenstein commented: “We are looking forward to the study results and hope that this gene therapy will provide us with a new and promising opportunity to better fight cancer in the future.”
Treating solid tumors
T-knife is developing next-generation adoptive T-cell therapies for solid tumors by using its proprietary humanized T-cell receptor (HuTCR) mouse platform – mouse strains whose T cells express only human T-cell receptors (TCRs) – to bring highly effective and safe T-cell receptor-based therapeutics to market.
“Having worked in stealth mode to create a powerful humanized mouse platform bearing the human TCR loci, it is especially gratifying to now receive the validation from esteemed healthcare dedicated funds like Versant Ventures and RA Capital Management,” said Elisa Kieback, chief executive officer and scientific co-founder of T-knife. “We are equally grateful for the continued support of our founding shareholders, Andera Partners and Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund, two top-tier healthcare investors who have been our true partners since inception. Going forward, our goal is to become a transatlantic company by establishing a U.S. presence and expanding our management team accordingly.”
The company has demonstrated preclinical proof-of-concept and its lead TCR candidate has entered clinical development. In addition, T-knife has validated the platform for over 90 cancer targets, with several follow-on drug candidates already in preclinical development. The company expects to bring three additional TCRs into the clinic by 2022.
– The journey from basic research to a new therapy. A film about Thomas Blankenstein
Photos to download
Photo: Johannes Fritzmann, MDC
Elisa Kieback, CEO
13125 Berlin, Germany
Professor Thomas Blankenstein
Head of the Molecular Immunology and Gene Therapy Lab
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC)
Director of the Institute of Immunology
Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin
Head of the Communications Department
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC)
The Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC) was founded in Berlin in 1992. It is named for the German-American physicist Max Delbrück, who was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. The MDC’s mission is to study molecular mechanisms in order to understand the origins of disease and thus be able to diagnose, prevent, and fight it better and more effectively. In these efforts the MDC cooperates with Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH ) as well as with national partners such as the German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK ) and numerous international research institutions. More than 1,600 staff and guests from nearly 60 countries work at the MDC, just under 1,300 of them in scientific research. The MDC is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (90 percent) and the State of Berlin (10 percent), and is a member of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers.
Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin is one of the largest university hospitals in Europe, offering 3,001 beds and boasting approximately 100 departments and institutes spread across 4 separate campuses. With a total of 18,700 members of staff employed across its group of companies (15,000 of which at Charité), the organization is one of the largest employers in Berlin. At Charité, the areas of research, teaching and medical care are closely interlinked. 4,553 of its employees work in the field of nursing, with a further 4,454 in research and medical care. Last year, Charité treated 154,261 in- and day case patients, in addition to 692,900 outpatients. In 2019, Charité recorded a turnover of approximately € 2.0 billion (including external funding and investment grants) and set a new record by securing more than € 179.1 million in external funding. Charité’s Medical Faculty is one of the largest in Germany, educating and training more than 8,000 medical, dentistry and health sciences students. Charité also offers 644 training positions across 9 different health care professions.” www.charite.de
T-knife is a next generation adoptive T-cell company utilizing its proprietary humanized T-cell receptor (HuTCR) mouse platform technology to treat solid tumors. It was founded as a spin off from Max-Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine and Charité University Hospital in Berlin in 2018. T-knifes mission is to use their unique technology to bring highly effective and safe T cell receptor-based therapeutics to market. Based on the unparalleled T cell immunology expertise of its founders and the unique and proprietary HuTCR platform, the Company develops fully human TCRs which are expected to set new technology standards achieving superior safety and efficacy. The Company has demonstrated pre-clinical proof-of-concept and its lead TCR has entered clinical development. In addition, T-knife has validated the platform for over 90 undisclosed cancer targets, with several follow-on drug candidates being already in preclinical development. The Company expects to bring three additional TCRs into the clinic by 2022. T-knife is executing a two-pronged corporate growth strategy: developing an internal pipeline of best-in-class therapeutics and in parallel, establishing external partnerships by out-licensing its other already patented TCRs and/or providing the Company's HuTCR mouse for unbiased discovery of new epitopes. T-knife is backed by top tier investors Versant Ventures, RA Capital Management, Andera Partners, and Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund.
Ascenion is an independent technology transfer company focussing on the life sciences. It is partner to 30 research organizations, universities and university hospitals in Germany and Europe, including life-science institutes of the Helmholtz and Leibniz Associations, the Charité, the Hannover Medical School, the Medical University of Innsbruck and the University Medical Center Göttingen. Ascenion’s multidisciplinary, industry-experienced team works closely with its partners to tap the potential of their research by identifying promising results, obtaining patent protection, and turning pure science into applied technology. Particular strengths are spin-off support and project development, where early-stage projects are transformed into assets that attract potential investors and licensees. This has led to the founding of numerous new companies and the transfer of innovative medical approaches into approved drugs, changing the lives of thousands of patients. Profits from Ascenion’s operative business and exit proceeds flow via its parent company, the LifeScience Foundation for the Promotion of Science and Research, to fund further translational research at its partner institutes.