Startup founded by UT professor receives $80 million to research fighting cancer with immune system

Kevin Dural

An $80 million partnership between engineering professor George Georgiou’s research company Kyn Therapeutics and biotechnology company Celgene will study a new treatment for cancer — the human immune system.

Les Nichols, interim director of UT’s Office of Technology Commercialization, said the use of the body’s natural immune response to fight cancer, a field known as immunooncology, is an innovative approach to the cancer challenge. 

“Once the OTC dived into this technology, taking a look at some of the data and results that Georgiou was able to acquire, it became clear early on that the medical marketplace will care about this,” Nichols said. “We felt confident in pursuing a patent.”

While the immune system is designed to protect against foreign bacteria and viruses, the immunooncology treatment that Kyn Therapeutics is developing masks the cancer cells so the immune system attacks these cells like any other virus.


“Kyn Therapeutics addresses the need for therapeutics that improve the clinical outcomes of cancer immunotherapies,” Georgiou said in email. “We are pleased at the possibility of delivering solutions that could bring breakthrough improvements to the many patients who stand to benefit from the cancer immunotherapy revolution underway.” 

Nichols said the life science inventive process is more structured than that in other disciplines, as it includes a timeframe involving FDA protocols, trial stages and approvals necessary before a drug is allowed to be sold. Potential funding sources are also examined during this process. 

The investment enables the initiation of clinical testing that brings the technology a step closer to FDA approval. Good outcomes at the early stages of testing attract the additional investment required to reach ultimate approval, Nichols said.

“When Georgiou and others come up with inventive concepts, we work with them to define patentability aspects and we file patents on their behalf,” Nichols said. “Then the fun starts where we determine the most effective way to bring the patented technology into the marketplace so it can be used for the benefit of society.”

Luca Tomescu, an electrical and engineering and mathematics junior, said success stories like these incentivize entrepreneurial students. As he works with Texas Convergent, an interdisciplinary entrepreneurial incubator, he said seeing a recognizable professor raise capital makes innovating within a startup appear to be a much more realizable goal for UT students.   

“Making UT the premier university for entrepreneurship is a unified effort that involves everyone on campus, from students and faculty to administrators and staff,” Tomescu said. “UT has an extensive history of supporting entrepreneurs, and this investment shows that startups and commercialization of UT-Austin technology pose a viable option for professors and students alike.”

Kyn Therapeutics is the most recent company Georgiou has founded. Nichols said that Georgiou’s reputation for successfully bringing research from the laboratory to the marketplace only adds to UT’s influence within research and medical fields.

“He has this development process down to a science,” Nichols said. “Georgiou is a prolific researcher who further cements UT-Austin as one of the premier research institutions.”