Developing future chemotherapy drugs that limit harmful side-effects could be sped up after biotech start-up Seekyo received a funding boost.

The French company – which specialises in the next generation of chemotherapies that can identify and destroy only cancerous cells to prevent the issues arising from attacking healthy cells – completed a seed round of fundraising worth €800,000 ($890,000).

The funds will allow the business to accelerate the development of its flagship “smart drug” candidate, named SKY01, with plans to launch a new fundraising round that will address clinical trials.

Seekyo co-founder Professor Sebastien Papot said: “SKY01 is a therapeutic vector carrying a powerful cytotoxic agent that can be activated in the tumour microenvironment via an extracellular and highly specific enzymatic cleavage.

“With this, Seekyo positions itself as an alternative to the already identified limitations of treatments, such as antibody drug conjugates (ADCs), including targeting the tumour microenvironment without using monoclonal antibodies.”


What is Seekyo and its future chemotherapy drug candidate?

Seekyo was founded in 2018 by Prof Papot, an academic who works at the University of Poitiers and French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), and life science business development veteran Oury Chetboun.

The company, based in Poitiers, western France, is developing a drug candidate that can specifically target solid tumours located in the pancreas, lung, breast, colon, head and neck.

Based on its patented molecular software platform, the “smart drug” is designed to transport potent anti-cancer agents in an innocuous manner to tissues.

Therapeutic vectors can detect a malignant tumour and trigger the drug’s anti-cancer activity only in malignant tumours.

The drug is activated in the tumour microenvironment via an extracellular and highly specific enzymatic cleavage.

This increases the effectiveness of anti-cancer drugs while considerably reducing their adverse effects.


How Seekyo’s drug differs to current chemotherapy

In 2018, there were an estimated 18.1 million new cases of cancer worldwide, with nearly 10 million people dying from cancer-related deaths the same year.

More than 40% of cancers are solid tumours, for which chemotherapy is one of the main forms of treatment.

This relies on the use of drugs to eliminate cancer cells but chemotherapy attacks healthy cells as well as cancerous ones, causing significant adverse effects to patients, such as hair loss and a weakened immune system.

Newer drugs on the market or in development seek to be more selective in their cell targeting, such a ADCs, but have already demonstrated their limitations in treating solid tumours with low tissue penetration and cancer cell heterogeneity.

Seekyo’s chemotherapy drug offers an alternative to ADCs and pre-clinical studies for SKY01 have brought “very promising results”, the company said.


Seekyo backed by French Tech Seed Fund

Seekyo has now been financially backed by investors and the French Tech Seed Fund, which helps technology companies less than three years old to leverage private investment.

The fund, managed by French public investment bank Bpifrance, provided €250,000 ($278,000) in convertible bonds.

This helped unlock €400,000 ($445,000) from a pool of private investors from the Badge, Investessor and Synergence business angel networks, reinforced by a €150,000 ($167,000) loan from the European Investment Fund.

Chetboun, CEO of Seekyo, said: “We are very pleased to have attracted new financial partners to push forward the development of our company and our drug candidate.

“The funds will allow us to consolidate the promising results in mice by conducting toxicology and pharmacokinetics tests.

“We are also preparing a new round of fundraising in 2020 to conduct regulatory preclinical trials, with the goal of entering human clinical trials within 24 months.”

Mame Dieye, regional director at Bpifrance Poitiers, added: “We are very happy to support Seekyo which is embarking on a promising development with high technological intensity.”