Nkarta was founded in 2015 by Dario Campana, MD, PhD, a world-renowned pioneer in cancer research, to propel the field of cell therapy further by leveraging the potency of Natural Killer cells.
Cell therapy, a new therapeutic approach that uses a patient’s own immune cells to attack tumors, has emerged as one of the most promising breakthroughs in cancer treatment. First generation approaches have focused on T-cells, which have shown great promise in hematologic malignancies, but are plagued with unwanted side effects and, to date, have not shown similar activity in solid tumors. Nkarta was founded to address these limitations with next generation approaches based on Natural Killer (NK) cells. NK cells are the body’s first line of defense against infections and diseases with an innate ability to rapidly seek and destroy abnormal cells. NK cell therapy has the potential to 1) target multiple pathogenic antigens with measurably more efficient cytotoxicity, 2) be better controlled to reduce risk of cytokine storms and 3) be produced from a variety of sources without relying on patient-specific immune cells. Nkarta’s proprietary NK cell therapy platform is designed to maximize the therapeutic effect of natural killer cells through robust expansion, enhanced targeting and extended persistence of these potent immune cells to unleash a powerful and sustained anti-cancer immune-mediated attack.
The power of the immune system to treat and cure cancer has been recognized since the pioneering work of William Coley over 100 years ago. Rapid progress in understanding immune biology has fueled the invention and development of a host of new therapies that are revolutionizing cancer treatment. With advances in cell therapies, the field has turned its attention to a new cancer killing weapon within the immune system: Natural Killer cells. Natural Killer cells have a unique and critically important role in fighting pathogens. NK cells are a key component of the innate immune system and are responsible for a selective and rapid attack on tumor cells. Innate immunity provides an immediate and broad recognition of cellular stress and dysfunction, while adaptive immunity is an evolved process whereby the immune system is taught to recognize and remember very specific antigens associated with pathogens and somatic mutations. NK cells, through a sequence of subsequent immune stimulatory activity, also have the power to awaken the adaptive immune system, thereby producing a powerful, multi-factorial immune response against its target.
For patients who are affected by cancer, the immune response is not sufficient to address the disease. Nkarta is developing proprietary methods of boosting the immune response through Natural Killer cell-based therapies. The company’s novel and differentiated technology is focused on producing a therapy that overcomes the challenges of the naturally-occurring immune response, which include:
- Engineering enhanced NK cell recognition of their tumor targets,
- Generating an abundant supply of NK cells,
- And improving their persistence for sustained activity in the body.
Nkarta’s goal is to offer a versatile and robust approach to cancer therapy that is easily combined with other therapies and has potential for allogeneic or autologous applications to ultimately improve outcomes for patients.