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Yukin Therapeutics, a biotech start-up and offshoot of the Université Côte d'Azur's research, fights cancers

The teams of Thierry Passeron and Rachid Benhida have developed a new therapeutic strategy to boost the effectiveness of immunotherapy in fighting certain types of cancers. This major innovation is protected by two patents, owned jointly by the Université Côte d'Azur, the Inserm, the CNRS and the Nice University Hospital Center, which were recently granted by SATT Sud-Est (a Technology Transfer Accelerator in South-East France) to the young pharmaceutical start-up Yukin Therapeutics.

Publication : 15/03/2019
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Immunotherapy is considered to be a major discovery and, as such, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2018. And yet, therapeutic barriers remain to its use as a treatment against cancers. Its effectiveness can therefore only benefit a limited number of patients. In Nice, teams of biologists and chemists under Prof. Thierry PASSERON and Dr. Rachid BENHIDA decided to develop a new therapeutic strategy aimed at boosting the effectiveness of immunotherapy. The researchers focused on a therapeutic target, the "NF-kappa-B-inducing kinase" or NIK. The therapeutic tool, protected by a portfolio of patents, includes a series of active compounds synthesized in the laboratory. By modulating the activity of the NIK kinase, these compounds induce an anti-tumor response and accentuate the effects of an anti-PD-1 antibody treatment, which is currently the standard treatment on the market. This was observed in vitroon melanoma, colon, lung, breast, prostate and pancreas cancer cells, and in vivoon colorectal melanoma and cancer in mice. This project received support and funding from the SATT Sud-Est and PACA Canceropôle. 

SATT Sud-Est granted the young pharmaceutical start-up an exclusive license to develop the two patents collectively owned by the Université Côte d'Azur, the Inserm, the CNRS and the Nice University Hospital Center. The invention is the outcome of scientific research identified and boosted by the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Canceropôle. Protected by SATT Sud-Est, the invention is being developed and co-financed by SATT Sud-Est and the PACA Canceropôle. The therapeutic arsenal derived from the invention targets skin cancer, and most solid cancers including pancreatic cancer. 

"Immunotherapy is a major step forward. But even in the case of cancers, such as melanoma, where this type of treatment has contributed to significant improvement, not all patients respond. Our technique is to "warm up" tumors to make them sensitive to immunotherapy. In our laboratories, we work on cells taken from our patients' tumors. Even if there is still a lot of work to be done, our hope is to be able to offer this new treatment to our patients very soon, to see them improve and, hopefully, cure their cancer," explains Professor Thierry Passeron, Clinical Professor at the Mediterranean Center of Molecular Medicine (C3M*) and Nice University Hospital Center, founder and scientific consultant of Yukin Therapeutics. 

"Our priority is to design and synthesize molecules that have an original 'first-in-class' mode of action and ultimately to translate basic research into clinical applications by means of a disruptive innovation, for the benefit of patients who have suffered from therapeutic failure," adds Dr. Rachid Benhida, CNRS Research Director at the Institute of Chemistry of Nice (ICN **), also founder and scientific consultant of Yukin Therapeutics.

The Yukin Therapeutics start-up is a simplified joint-stock company founded by inventor researchers specialized in pharmaceutical development. It is based in Biot (06). Yukin Therapeutics aims to use these first-in-class NIK kinase inhibitors for targeted therapies in oncology. In addition, the researchers have already obtained promising results on other indications such as colorectal cancer. Yukin Therapeutics is supported by its main shareholder, the health investment fund, Advent France Biotechnology. SATT Sud-Est, which transferred the technology to Yukin Therapeutics in the context of a start-up nurturing and assistance program initiated and steered by PACA Canceropôle, also holds shares in the capital of Yukin Therapeutics. Yukin Therapeutics aims to continue to develop its compounds through the clinical phases. 

* Mediterranean Center of Molecular Medicine (C3M, Université Côte d'Azur, Inserm). 
** Institute of Chemistry of Nice (ICN, Université Côte d'Azur, CNRS). 

Source: SATT Sud-Est news release