Nirogy Therapeutics Emerges with $16.5M to Target Metabolite Transporters

Over the next year, Nirogy will narrow its lactate transporter inhibitor candidates down to one for preclinical development and IND-enabling studies. (Getty/EPlus/asonfang)

After years working under the radar, Nirogy Therapeutics is offcially launching with $16.5 million and a mission to drug a family of membrane proteins called solute carriers. The proceeds will see the company’s lead cancer program through phase 1, CEO Vincent Sandanayaka, Ph.D., said.

Solute carriers are embedded in the cell membrane and control the movement of metabolites such as glucose, cholesterol and amino acids in and out of cells or to the right locations within cells. They’re the gatekeepers of processes like nutrient uptake and metabolite disposal, which go awry in many diseases. Nirogy’s lead program targets lactate transporters to take out cancer with a one-two punch.
Unlike healthy cells, cancer cells consume a large amount of glucose and produce lots of lactic acid as a waste product that they expel into the tumor microenvironment through lactate transporters. Tumors with high levels of lactate are a hostile environment for immune cells, so they tamp down anti-tumor immunity.

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“If we block these transporters, we can directly kill cancer cells and simultaneously activate anti-tumor immunity,” Sandanayaka said. Nirogy hopes to move its lead program into the clinic in 2022.

“We recognize the potential of the Nirogy team and its proprietary drug discovery engine in SLCTs, which could yield over 450 potential druggable targets and open up new treatment modalities for a number of life-threatening diseases,” said Dennis McWilliams, a partner at Santé Ventures, in a statement. Santé led the series A round alongside Sporos.

Despite being an attractive drug target, solute carriers have been largely untapped due to technology challenges.

“These are highly complex proteins bound to cell membranes. If we take them out of the cell membrane, their functional state is destroyed and therefore, it’s very hard to design drugs against them,” Sandanayaka said.

Others have drugged solute carriers before, but approached them individually rather than as a family with shared characteristics. Like Jnana Therapeutics, another biotech working to drug solute carriers, Nirogy built technology to go after these targets.

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“Our team’s strength in computational modeling, medicinal chemistry and cancer biology has enabled us to overcome the challenge of drugging these critical untapped targets,” Sandanayaka said in the statement.

Solute carriers aren’t all Jnana and Nirogy have in common. Both companies’ names are derived from Sanskrit: Jnana means “knowledge,” while Nirogy means “without illness.”

“Our vision is to create a path to really end patient suffering,” Sandanayaka said.

Over the next year, Nirogy will narrow its lactate transporter inhibitor candidates down to one for preclinical development and IND-enabling studies. Though the compound on its own acts as a combination of targeted therapy and an immunotherapy drug, it could be added to other cancer-fghting agents to boost their effcacy, Sandanayaka said.

So far, it’s looked at combining its prospects with anti-PD1 and anti-CTLA4 immunotherapies in mouse models of triple- negative breast cancer, melanoma and colorectal cancer.

by Amirah Al Idrus, Biotech

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Vincent P. Sandanayaka, Ph.D.

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