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New spin-out develops universal protein technology that can reduce side effects of cancer treatment

Troya Therapeutics is a newly established spin-out from the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics. The company focuses on reducing the side effects of cancer treatment through immunotherapy, with the aim of improving existing treatment methods and opening up opportunities for new drugs. The technology has the potential to be used in a variety of therapies, and in the next few years, funding will be raised to further mature the research. 

Seandean Lykke Harwood (to the left) and Jan J. Enghild have established the spin-out company Troya Therapeutics, which focuses on reducing the side effects of cancer treatment through immunotherapy, with the aim of improving existing treatment methods and opening up opportunities for new drugs (photo: Karen Bech Sørensen)

"Imagine you're undergoing treatment for lung cancer. You'll typically be given medication that affects your entire body. Not just the tumour tissue that is diseased - but also the healthy tissue. This can be a problem if the medication has a harmful effect on the healthy tissue. Then you get side effects that, in severe cases, can put a stop to the treatment. Our technology can potentially target the effect of the medicine to the part of your body that is diseased," says Seandean Lykke Harwood, postdoc at the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics (MBG) at Aarhus University, co-founder and CEO of Troya Therapeutics.

The idea that led to the creation of Troya Therapeutics came about in 2018, when Seandean Lykke Harwood was working on the analysis of proteins in blood as an industrial PhD student under the supervision of Professor Jan J. Enghild at MBG. It took two years for the idea to materialise, but early on the two researchers started talking about potential applications. Seandean Lykke Harwood explains:
"We had indications that we had a so-called platform technology, which means that our method could be applied to different diseases and therapeutic areas. This made things even more exciting because the applications are many.
Then came the report to Aarhus University's Technology Transfer Office (TTO) - now called Commercialisation and IP and located in The Kitchen. They looked into patentability and commercial potential - and the two researchers' hunch was confirmed: they were on to something.

Commercialisation and formation of the company

The patenting process was initiated with the help of TTO and the patent attorneys at Plougmann Vingtoft. And even though commercialisation is not exactly in the cards - as Seandean Lykke Harwood describes it himself: "Very nerdy protein scientist who just loves being creative with proteins" - the process was painless. In fact, the potential is so great that a spin-out was created in the summer of 2023, Seandean Lykke Harwood explains:
"TTO was a great sounding board for us throughout the process - making crucial adjustments along the way. Of course, the process of starting a business is a bit nerve-wracking because it's something completely new. But at the same time, I feel that the work I carry out in my daily work with basic research goes hand in hand with the activities in Troya Therapeutics. They complement each other."

Funding and the future

No research - or spin-out - without funding. Until now, the research behind Troya Therapeutics has been fuelled by DKK 1 million from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Pioneer Innovator Grant and DKK 3 million from the Danish Cancer Society. Of course, these millions are just the tip of the financial iceberg needed for Troya Therapeutics to realise its full potential and result in a product that can help patients. Seandean Lykke Harwood:
"As our method matures and is tested further, it will obviously require more funding. Right now, we are looking for the disease and treatment modality where we believe we can make the biggest difference with our technology. Then we need to fund the preclinical trials needed to see if we've made the right choice."

In addition to Professor Jan Enghild and Seandean Lykke Harwood, the spin-out also has a co-founder with commercial know-how, developer Ulrik B. Nielsen, who lives in Boston and has extensive experience in building biotech companies.