Discovering Biotech Startups: A map for Selling to Pyxis Oncology


Written by:
David Wilkerson

Welcome to another edition of our Sponsor Atlas series, which focuses on startups and young pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies that are in early stages or stealth mode. In the next edition of Sponsor Atlas: Discovering Biotech Startups, we’re looking at Pyxis Oncology, Inc., and exploring the current affairs and future orientation of this emerging Boston - based stealth biotech startup. To accomplish this, we will give a business overview of their current operations, summarize their outsourcing needs, map out their development goals and decision-makers, and highlight their current strategies for capturing innovation. If you haven’t already read our other blogs on new biotech startups, be sure to check them out here.  

Pyxis Oncology is a developer of antibody therapeutics intended to promote the body's immune response to cancer. The company has engaged in deep analyses of tumor antigen-specific tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) within hot tumors and of tumor cell signalling pathways within cold tumors, and is developing a pipeline of novel antibody-based immunotherapies.    

Business Overview 

Pyxis Oncology doesn’t have any registered trademarks, but they do have a simple website that covers the company’s business activities, leadership team, and recent news articles. Pyxis Oncology was registered in Delaware as a C-Corp with a filing date on 6/11/2018, and has a registered agent address through CT Corporation System in Boston. Pyxis Oncology’s principal place of business, as noted on the online business entity search is located at Prudential Tower, 800 Boylston Street, Suite 1555, Boston, MA 02199. Pyxis Oncology primarily operates in the oncology drug development space, and our current estimates show they generate <$1M in annual revenues, and employ approximately 11-50 people at this single location. [1]     

According to their Sec Form D, Pyxis closed a $22 million Series A round of financing from multiple investors including Leaps by Bayer, Longwood Fund, Agent Capital, and Ipsen. For over two decades, Dr. Gajewski has studied the role of T cells in the body's defense against cancer. His research team has led to new insights into the tumor microenvironment and unlocked multiple theoretical avenues to restore activity to dysfunctional T cells and turn immunologically "cold" tumors into "hot” ones. Pyxis is applying these insights to develop a pipeline of antibodies aimed at newly discovered immuno-oncology targets. Their pipeline could potentially create new ways to treat patients that don't respond to currently available therapies. 

"With our systematic approach for understanding the immunobiology of the tumor microenvironment, which is distinct from other inflammatory disease settings, we have uncovered multiple novel molecules that regulate immune responses against cancer," said Dr. Gajewski. "These molecules represent promising immuno-oncology targets, both for T cell-inflamed tumors and also for non-T cell-inflamed or 'cold' tumors, for which there is a large unmet need." [2

Outsourcing History

There isn’t much online information about Pyxis’s outsourcing needs, but their recent and huge amount of venture funding suggests that the company is well on their way to launching a unique development pipeline with innovative and potentially valuable discoveries in antibody-based immunotherapies. Pyxis Oncology is at an early point in their development pipeline and they will be working through the usual steps before reaching the IND stage with potential products. Their prospective pipeline consists of immunotherapies designed to combat difficult to treat cancers by producing and characterizing the protein targets and antibodies that may one day serve as a life-saving therapy to patients. Any experience in immunotherapies and the technologies surrounding them would be of tremendous benefit to Pyxis Oncology at this point in time.                 

Service providers with capabilities in protein characterization, expression and purification should definitely have Pyxis Oncology on their radar over the next few years. Be sure to reach out to Pyxis if your team has experience with protein characterization using SPR and BLI, or protein expression, SDS-PAGE, and protein purification methods such as IMAC, IEC, and SEC, and especially if you can manage the development and execution of  protein, cell, and tissue-based mechanistic in vitro assays to support advancement of novel immunotherapies from research through the development stages.       

Pyxis Oncology’s Pipeline and R&D Focus

As mentioned above, Pyxis Oncology is an immuno-oncology company focused on developing novel therapies to help patients defeat the many types of difficult to treat cancers. Built on the ground-breaking research of Pyxis co-founder and Scientific Advisory Board Chair, Dr. Thomas Gajewski, Pyxis is pursuing promising novel targets derived from the latest insights into the tumor microenvironment. Pyxis has already generated some preclinical data on these targets and is working on developing a pipeline of novel antibodies with the potential to help new patient populations not currently cured by today’s immunotherapies. Specifically, Pyxis identified immunoregulatory targets tied directly to biology of the tumor microenvironment, and has generated data on these targets through genetic and interventional preclinical proof of concept studies that suggest the potential for new and effective foundational monotherapies or use in combination with other cancer therapies. [3]     

Through a deep understanding of the role of the tumor microenvironment in immune cell activities, Pyxis Oncology has unlocked multiple new avenues to help restore the potency of dysfunctional immune cells. Pyxis is currently developing a diverse pipeline of new antibodies to enhance the immune response against cancer, even in tumor types that historically have not responded well to alternative immunotherapies. Many tumor types are surrounded by a malicious microenvironment that prevents immune cells from entering the tumor core, making them extraordinarily difficult to properly treat. It’s been found that these 'cold' tumors require novel therapeutic approaches to disrupt the negative regulation of tumor cells and to instead promote increased immune cell infiltration and overall motility. Simultaneously, for 'hot' tumors that do permit immune cell infiltration, the tumor microenvironment often inhibits normal immune cell functioning as well.           

With a pile of microenvironment research to expand on, Pyxis has engaged in deep analyses of tumor antigen-specific tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) within hot tumors and of tumor cell signaling pathways within cold tumors. This has led to the discovery of a novel array of positive and negative regulators of immune cell infiltration and functioning, paving the way for the development of novel antibody-based immunotherapies.             

Decision Making 

  • David Steinberg - David is a General Partner at Longwood Fund and Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Longwood portfolio company Pyxis Oncology. He comes from PureTech Health, a biotech incubator which he co-founded and served as Chief Innovation Officer, focusing on venture creation, investing, and launching innovative biotech companies. Mr. Steinberg is the co-founder and previous CEO of several biotech companies, including Longwood-founded Pyxis Oncology, Vedanta Biosciences, Calix, Vor Biopharma, and was co-founder of Restorbio. He previously worked in biopharma strategy consulting at Boston Consulting Group and Vertex Partners, and R&D at P&G Pharmaceuticals. He received his MBA in strategy and finance from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and holds a BA in biology from Cornell University. [4]
  • Thomas Gajewski, MD, PhD - Co-founder & SAB Chair of Pyxis Oncology, Thomas Gajewski, MD, PhD, currently specializes in developing new treatments for patients with melanoma. He has a special interest in the development of immunotherapies against this disease. Dr. Gajewski also leads development of immune-based therapies for other cancers, using new laboratory data on how the immune system is regulated to develop novel clinical trials. Dr. Gajewski serves as an editor for Cancer Research and Journal for Immunotherapy of Cancer. In addition, he is immediate past president of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer and has served on the program committees for the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). [5]      
  • John Flavin - Co-founder & Founding Chairman of Pyxis Oncology, John is a proven leader with a stellar track record of building valuable corporate, academic and civic enterprises from concept to reality including biotech companies he launched and took public on NASDAQ such as MediChem Life Sciences and Advanced Life Sciences; and civic organizations including Chicago Innovation Mentors, and MATTER. John has successfully raised over $345 million of both private and philanthropic capital to fund the development of these impactful organizations. John has won numerous awards related to his work in innovation and entrepreneurship including Crain's Who's Who in Business and Crain's Tech 50. He is also a member of Governor Rauner's Innovation Council and Mayor Emanuel's ChicagoNEXT tech council. [6]        
  • Lara Sullivan, MD - CEO & Director of Pyxis Oncology, Lara is an experienced biotech executive and entrepreneur with depth of expertise across clinical asset strategy, asset evaluation, financing and start-up execution. She has additional leadership experience within R&D, Medical, and Strategy corporate functions. She also has a track record of success in incubating and launching a high-profile well-capitalized clinical stage company. Currently she is CEO for Pyxis Oncology, a preclinical oncology platform company focused on novel biology addressing tumor microenvironment targets. Dr. Sullivan received an MBA from Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and earned an MD from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 2001. [7]      

Innovation

With a huge amount of venture funding, significant progress in scientific benchwork, and deep technical backgrounds from their executives, we believe that Pyxis Oncology will do very well in their development pipeline and future clinical trial studies. Unlike traditional immuno-oncology development programs, which in many cases originated from infectious disease inflammation models, Pyxis's approach centers around the most relevant tumor-reactive T cells from the core of growing tumors. Pyxis has already generated some interesting data through preclinical proof of concept studies showing their research platform has great potential in developing effective medicines. The ultimate goal of curing or preventing cancer is an area of engagement and investment for all of Pyxis’s investors, as these new therapies in oncology represent one of today's most important health challenges.   

"Immunotherapies have revolutionized the way many cancers are treated, yet they have not been successful in addressing large groups of patients," said David Steinberg. "We believe the antibodies we develop directed against T cell and tumor targets will have the potential to help new patient populations not currently served by today's therapies."     

How can I find new biotech startups?

If you would like a simple solution for keeping an eye on drug sponsor companies, like Pyxis Oncology, without relying on a database and generic lists of leads each week, we at Zymewire are here to help. Reach out today, and stay tuned for the next installment of the Sponsor Atlas: Discovering Biotech Startups. If you enjoy these articles, please feel free to give them a share through the social links below!   

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