Cancer drug company works with Trinity on natural killer cells

Galway-based ONK Therapeutics targets treatment of and ultimately cure for cancer

ONK Therapeutics, a Galway company developing enhanced natural killer cells in the immune system to target cancers, is teaming up with Trinity College Dublin to make them more effective.

The Trinity team will be led by Dr David Finlay, associate professor in immunometabolism, whose group was the first to demonstrate the importance of natural killer (NK) cellular metabolism in determining how toxic they are to cancer tumour cells.

“We are taking a completely novel approach by addressing NK cell metabolism from the inside out, fundamentally engineering NK cells to better treat cancer by increasing their resistance to the adverse metabolic conditions generated by tumours,” said Prof Michael O’Dwyer, founder and chief scientific office at ONK.

‘Pioneering expert’

“In working with Dr Finlay, we are collaborating with the pioneering expert in the field of NK immunometabolism.”


Under the terms of the collaboration, Trinity College Dublin retains any intellectual property (IP) arising out of the research collaboration, with ONK Therapeutics having an exclusive option to license the IP.

It will be funded under Enterprise Ireland’s innovation partnership programme, under which ONK puts up 20 per cent of the funds with the rest – over €370,000 – coming from the State agency.

“In order to understand why cellular cancer immunotherapies are not effective in all cancer patients, scientists are actively trying to identify why certain patients respond and some do not and why some types of cancer can be successfully treated while others cannot,” said Dr Finlay.

NK cell metabolism

“One emerging reason is that tumours can create metabolically unfavourable environments that might impact the effectiveness of immune cell therapies. Manipulating NK cell metabolism to enhance anti-cancer function is completely novel and is only possible based on our discoveries over the past five years,” he said.

Chris Nowers, chief executive of ONK says the company aims to become a company that not only treats but ultimately cures cancer.

“Our academic partnerships will deliver rich research insights and reinforce our own expertise as we aim to deliver new therapeutic options for patients in need,” he said.

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle is Deputy Business Editor of The Irish Times