BIDMC's expertise in modulating natural killer T-cells holds promise for new treatments for autoimmune disorders.
In the high-risk world of biotechnology, the path to success often takes unusual twists and turns. The evolution of NKT Therapeutics traveled just such a circuitous route. Steven Balk, MD, PhD, and Mark Exley, PhD, are experts in the application of natural killer T (NKT) cells and their role in modulating the immune system. Together with collaborator Brian Wilson, MD, PhD, of Massachusetts General Hospital, the team has been studying NKT cells since 1996, and were among the first to recognize NKTs’ anti-viral role, and among the first to show that by either activating or depleting NKT function, doctors might be able to treat such diseases as asthma, autoimmune disorders, infectious diseases, and even cancer. In 2000, BIDMC’s NKT technology was licensed to a small start-up company, only to find that the project was suspended when the start-up was acquired by another company. But, through the inventors’ continued diligence, the perseverance of an interested entrepreneur, a committed team of venture capitalists, and the licensing efforts of BIDMC’s TVO staff, NKT commercialization efforts eventually paid off. Newton-based NKT Therapeutics was founded in 2008. With a $9 million first-round investment from SV Life Sciences and Medimmune Ventures, the company aims to develop a pipeline of first-in-class therapeutics and is poised to demonstrate that NKT modulation can be a highly effective treatment approach for sickle cell anemia, autoimmune diseases and inflammatory diseases, as well as cancer, asthma and dermatitis.