Asgard Therapeutics Raises Seed Funding for New In Vivo Cancer Immunotherapy

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Asgard was born out of the work of Filipe Pereira, PhD, (Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Asgard) at the Cell Reprogramming and Immunity Lab at Lund University. The company specializes in direct cell reprogramming in vivo to elicit anti-cancer immune responses. Pereira’s team discovered that they could reprogram dermal fibroblasts found in the skin into functional dendritic cells (which they call “induced” dendritic cells, or iDCs) using just three transcription factors: PU.1, IRF8 and BATF3.

Dendritic cells are antigen presenting cells that serve as a bridge between the innate and adaptive immune systems and play a key role in activating the adaptive immune response against pathogens. Acting as sentinels, immature dendritic cells continually sample their environment for molecules commonly associated with pathogens or damage to host cells.

Upon contact with a pathogen, dendritic cells activate and engulf the pathogen, developing into mature dendritic cells. They process the pathogen’s proteins into small pieces to display them on their cell surfaces using class II molecules of the major histocompatibility complex, and then migrate to a lymph node, where they present the displayed antigens – thus that co-stimulatory molecules to T cells and B cells – – to initiate the adaptive immune response. As such, dendritic cells have a unique ability to induce a primary immune response in inactive or naive T cells. They also help B cells maintain their immune memory.

Asgard’s proprietary TrojanDC technology uses a viral gene therapy vector to transduce tumor cells to express PU.1, IRF8 and BATF3, the three transcription factors that can reprogram cells into functional dendritic cells (the “horse of Trojan ‘for which the platform is named).

Cancer cells generally evade immune detection by suppressing their own presentation of antigen, thus effectively hiding themselves from the host’s immune system. By reprogramming cancer cells to become antigen-presenting cells, TrojanDC forces individual cancer cells to present their own antigens to the immune system, making them immunogenic targets which in turn activate specific killer T cells. cancer cells, triggering a coordinated immune response against them and their tumor cell counterparts.

The goal of the technology is a ready-to-use gene therapy that can induce a personalized immune response against a wide range of cancers at a much lower manufacturing cost than conventional cell-based immune therapies.

Pereira’s team began their research on cell reprogramming in 2015 at the University of Coimbra, Portugal, then moved to Lund University in 2017 to establish the Lund Cell Reprogramming and Immunity Laboratory in from which Asgard Therapeutics was formed in 2018.

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