UU Spinout Creating Innovative Treatments for Skin Cancer

Klas Therapeutics is a Belfast based company founded in 2021 by Professors Bridgeen Callan (CEO) and John Callan. The company has developed innovative technology for the treatment of non-resectable malignant melanoma (MM), the most aggressive form of skin cancer. The technology originates from research carried out at the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Ulster University.

Although Melanoma represents less than 5% of skin cancers, it is responsible for 75% of skin cancer-related deaths. Globally, 325,000 melanoma incidences occur annually with these figures set to rise. Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) and targeted treatments have revolutionised the treatment of Melanoma, however, only approximately 50% of patients respond to ICIs and the heterogenous nature of these lesions prove hard for the targeted treatments to eradicate, demonstrating that a high unmet medical need remains for MM. Klas Therapeutics has developed a patented novel innovative therapy providing Melanoma patients with targeted treatment, close to 100% cellular death and 500% tumour growth reduction.

This project follows on from the successful Innovate UK market discovery programme ‘Innovation to commercialisation of University research’ (ICURe), with a comprehensive package of work to increase both the technology and investor readiness level of this innovative discovery, increasing the likelihood of ultimate patient benefit. Klas Therapeutics aim is to adopt their therapy into hospitals for care of patients.

Chief Operating Officer, Poullette Oduor tells us why she thinks Northern Ireland is a great space to start a company, “We are well placed with supportive entities, for example, Tech Start, Clarendon and Innovate UK. However, we often have to go across the water to access therapeutic needs as this area is not yet well developed in NI”. 

Klas Therapeutics has recently received funding support from Invest NI, Innovate UK and ICURE grant. “With the ICURE grant, we are hoping to achieve a few milestones, for example, we received our patent for Europe and America in 2023, and with part of this grant, we can now begin non-GMP manufacture of our compound to enable us to start collecting CMC data for regulatory purposes. We are also hoping to carry out some more scientific investigations, exploring more ways to increase our value proposition through conducting a few lab experiments and we are working with a company to continuously demonstrate market traction.”

Poullette shared Klas Therapeutics are also partnering with Medicine Discovery Catapult as part of an 18-month Innovate UK Biomedical Catalyst grant of circa 300K. 

“The project seeks to enhance the commercialisation of our exciting new technology, Klas-PDT, by generating a data package that will confirm the optimal parameters for light activation and dosing regime, rendering the technology closer to achieving actual patient benefit while at the same time developing new methods that can be carried forward and translated for the analysis of our eventual clinical data.”

So what was Poullettes life sciences journey?

“After receiving my Masters in Pharmacy in July 2018, I re-enrolled back into Ulster University and carried out a PhD in nanoparticle drug delivery to the posterior of the eye, sponsored by the Macular Society, attaining a PhD in biochemistry and pharmaceutical sciences. In the same lab, led by Prof Bridgeen Callan, then the CSO of KlasTx, our parent drug, KT-001 was established to be effective against melanoma when activated by photodynamic therapy (PDT) with amazing results, and from this Klas Therapeutics was founded in 2021. While writing my thesis, I joined the ICURe programme in Nov 2022, a programme that focuses on commercialisation of university research. I joined the ICURe programme as an early career researcher, to take forward KlasTx technology, focusing on evidenced market placement through conversations with our various customer segments and demonstrating product- market fit. We applied for the InnovateUK grant and we were successfully awarded a grant offer letter for >£291,000. I then became part of Klas Therapeutics as the COO of the company in October 2023 and my current role includes: co-leading in investment, exploring partnership conversations, preclinical development, investigating early clinical development pathways and project management.”

Find out more about Klas Therapeutics on their website and LinkedIn page.

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