Cancer killer cell group has two shots at success

Galway company chasing scientific and manufacturing breakthroughs

Cutting edge medtech ONK Therapeutics has two shots at delivering after raising another €19 million from investors – including serial drug delivery entrepreneur Seamus Mulligan – last week.

The Galway company is investigating the potential for tackling cancers by editing the genetic structure of natural killer cells from the body's immune system to make them more effective in neutralising cancer cells.

It is targeting blood cancers, including multiple myeloma which has a very high incidence in Ireland relative to the rest of Europe, and solid tumour cancers – such as breast, ovarian and a type of lung cancer – each with a slightly different and highly innovative approach.


The start-up, founded by NUI Galway professor Michael O'Dwyer and led by industry veteran Chris Nowers, is also working in parallel on developing processes to manufacture such gene edited cells at scale.


Of course, the key word here is potential. ONK is just one of many companies chasing the prospect of a cure for cancer. Its gene-editing enhancement of natural killers cells works fine in theory: the in vivo tests it is now planning on the back of this latest investment will be a significant confirmation if they deliver on expectations.

That will raise the prospect of lucrative new drug indications for the Galway group and open the door to substantial new funds from a wider pool of investors.

But even away from the science, delivering on the manufacturing side of the business would be a significant winner for the business.


Gene editing is a key element of the future of healthcare and proving a capability to manufacture at scale would be a breakthrough.

Assuming it can deliver, keeping businesses like ONK in Ireland will be the next challenge.

Global investment in various cell therapies is accelerating and it seems certain to become a mainstream healthcare therapy. IDA Ireland – with its strong record of identifying the potential for Ireland in new technologies – will no doubt be working on creating an ecosystem that supports ONK and other companies working in the sector here.