The Berlin biotech start-up T-knife, a spin-off together from the MDC and Charité, has secured investments totaling €66 million. Four venture capital funds committed to the financing in early August. T-knife develops new cancer treatments using modified immune system T cells.

It is usually a long path from the initial idea in the biomedical laboratory to a new therapy for patients. This takes time – and above all, lots of money. For about 20 years, scientists at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC) and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin headed by Professor Thomas Blankenstein have been working on developing new cancer treatments using the body’s own immune cells whose receptors have been genetically modified in the laboratory. Blankenstein is investigating whether these modified T cells can stop cancer from developing. Two years ago, the scientist founded the company T-knife together with Elisa Kieback and Holger Specht and with support from Ascenion GmbH. The biotech start-up, which now has 18 employees, plans to develop new and highly sophisticated cancer therapeutics to treat tumors based on T-cell receptors.

T-knife will now receive €66 million in capital funding from four venture capital firms: Versant Ventures and RA Capital Management from the U.S. and the company’s seed investors Andera Partners and Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund. This was agreed by the V.C. firms on August 6 in a Series A round of financing. Series A refers to large capital injections following the initial start-up financing. T-knife’s Series A round is the largest so far for a German company this year.

Professor Thomas Sommer, interim Scientific Director of the MDC, congratulated Blankenstein and his T-knife colleagues: “This is an outstanding success, which underlines how research by MDC teams finds its way into practical application, into clinics and to the patients. It also shows how important our cooperation with the Charité is in ensuring benefits for patients.” Blankenstein commented: “We are looking forward to the study results and hope that this gene therapy will provide us with a new and promising opportunity to better fight cancer in the future.”

Treating solid tumors

T-knife is developing next-generation adoptive T-cell therapies for solid tumors by using its proprietary humanized T-cell receptor (HuTCR) mouse platform – mouse strains whose T cells express only human T-cell receptors (TCRs) – to bring highly effective and safe T-cell receptor-based therapeutics to market.

“Having worked in stealth mode to create a powerful humanized mouse platform bearing the human TCR loci, it is especially gratifying to now receive the validation from esteemed healthcare dedicated funds like Versant Ventures and RA Capital Management,” said Elisa Kieback, chief executive officer and scientific co-founder of T-knife. “We are equally grateful for the continued support of our founding shareholders, Andera Partners and Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund, two top-tier healthcare investors who have been our true partners since inception. Going forward, our goal is to become a transatlantic company by establishing a U.S. presence and expanding our management team accordingly.”

The company has demonstrated preclinical proof-of-concept and its lead TCR candidate has entered clinical development. In addition, T-knife has validated the platform for over 90 cancer targets, with several follow-on drug candidates already in preclinical development. The company expects to bring three additional TCRs into the clinic by 2022.

Image: © Johannes Fritzmann, MDC


Further information

A long and winding road – The journey from basic research to a new therapy. A film about Thomas Blankenstein


Other news