UofT M oncology start-up receives $22-M funding

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Prof. Patrick Gunning, co-founder of Janpix. (photo by Lisa Sakulenski)

A biopharmaceutical start-up which was spun out of the University of Toronto Mississauga has snapped up $22 million in funding from Medicxi, a venture capital firm based in Europe.

The massive cash infusion launched Janpix Inc. this week. The company’s research is focused on small molecular inhibitors known as signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT) protein.

Studies have shown evidence that STAT proteins are involved in the development and function of the immune system and play a role in maintaining immune tolerance and tumour surveillance.

With the funding from the GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson-backed Medicxi, Janpix will be opening its new headquarters in Massachusetts. Roman Fleck, a former scientist who became a venture capitalist, is chief executive officer of Janpix.

“We are absolutely delighted that Medicxi has made this visionary investment in technology developed right here at U of T Mississauga,” Prof. Patrick Gunning, a medicinal chemist at the UTM who co-founded Janpix and developed the technology used by the company, said in an interview with the U of T News.  “Our work has the potential to create new drugs to battle aggressive blood, brain and breast cancers, and this support will help to accelerate that research and get those compounds to the patients who need them.”

STAT 3 and STAT 5 proteins play a crucial role in regulating cell cycle, apoptosis, and proliferation.

Until now, STAT proteins “remained a hard-to-crack molecular target” because intracellular protein-protein interactions are extremely difficult to inhibit with small molecules, according to a press release issued by Janpix.

“Immunotherapy is one of the biggest advances in cancer therapy in recent decades but it doesn’t work in a significant number of patients,” said Fleck who is also an advisor to Medicxi. “By targeting the tumor directly along with its microenvironment we may be able to expand the universe of patients that can benefit from immunotherapies.”

Janpix has made great progress in developing tractable compounds that inhibit these difficult-to-target proteins, said Giovanni Mariggi, a principal at Medicxi.

“The role of STATs in multiple tumour types is supported by vast data and the emerging evidence of their role in tumor immunity adds an extra dimension to the potential impact these new drugs could have on patients,” he said.


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