Alnair Therapeutics Awarded $175,000 From George Shultz Innovation Fund

Xiaoyang Wu is an associate professor in the Ben May Department of Cancer Research. (Photo by Matt Marton)

The George Shultz Innovation Fund (GSIF), managed by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, recently selected oncology startup Alnair Therapeutics as a Fall 2022 cohort award winner.

The company, launched in September 2022, aims to develop a platform technology that improves the delivery of drugs to difficult-to-treat cancers. Xiaoyang Wu, associate professor of cancer research and stem cell biology at the University of Chicago, leads the startup.

Wu has a team of advisors from the Polsky Compass Deep Tech Accelerator that includes Anh Nguyen, Booth’11, vice president and R&D therapeutic head at Asklepios BioPharmaceutical; Aziz Alam, senior director of regulatory affairs at Kinnate Biopharma; and Sanjeev Thohan, senior vice president of nonclinical development at Alterome Therapeutics.

“We are extremely grateful to Polsky and to the Innovation Fund for their continued support bringing this technology to the next stage,” Wu said. “The connections they enable and the expertise they provide are truly essential to the success of our development program.”

Wu’s drug delivery platform addresses a major issue in cancer treatment. Currently, less than 1 percent of administered cancer drugs gets to the tumor site, and when they do, they’re not at a sufficient concentration to have an effect. This may result in cancer relapse and recurrence.

To overcome this, Wu uses a hallmark of cancer metabolism known as the “Warburg effect” to better target tumors and deliver drugs at effective levels.

“Uniquely, cancer cells run on lactate as a fuel source, and these levels of lactic acid are orders of magnitude higher than in healthy cells,” he explains. “Our platform carries and delivers drugs directly to cancers by targeting the higher lactate levels within the tumor microenvironment. Further, to tailor drug delivery, it allows you to tune a threshold for when you want to release the cancer drug, at lower or higher lactate concentrations.”

The first-in-class drug delivery platform is designed to work with many of today’s treatments, including oncolytic, targeted, immune and hormone therapies. Numerous preclinical trials have demonstrated significant increases in both tumor targeting and drug penetration, resulting in improved survival.

“We have done preclinical studies in mouse models that have shown significant improvement in survival,” Wu said. “For instance, in triple negative breast cancer – an aggressive cancer with fewer treatment options that makes up about 15 percent of all breast cancers – we saw rates of survival 3.5 times versus conventional therapy. Even if we get a fraction of this benefit in future studies, it’s exceedingly promising.”

Wu, who has also participated in Polsky’s Compass program, is looking to partner with investors to begin preclinical development of the platform, and then eventually move to a Phase 1 clinical trial.

Alnair Therapeutics joins Riptide Therapeutics as the Fall 2022 GSIF cohort winners. Both will receive a $175,000 investment from the Fund.

During the GSIF process, teams received guidance and dedicated support from the Polsky Center, business experts, an advisory committee, and student Innovation Fund Associates who are training in venture capitalism.

“The GSIF is a venture-philanthropy fund, managed as an evergreen impact fund,” said Ozge Guney Altay, director of investment strategy for Polsky Deep Tech Ventures. “Our mission and our challenge are one and the same: identify investment opportunities that not only generate significant financial returns, but also create lasting impact for humankind. We believe in all the companies that engage with us and are proud to have the opportunity to support them on their journeys.”

To date, the Fund has invested $9 million in 94 companies that have gone on to raise $412 million in follow-on funding. Companies launched with the fund’s support include Onchilles Pharma, ExplORer Surgical, ClostraBio, Esya Labs and Super.Tech.

Article by Devon McPhee, freelance writer and editor, and owner of DM Editorial Services, LLC. Devon has more than 20 years of experience covering business, science and technology, health and medicine, and higher education.

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