Helsinki-based TILT Biotherapeutics raised some eyebrows in February 2023 as the clinical-stage biotech startup announced the final close of its EUR 22 million financing round. The Finnish company is changing the face of oncolytic immunotherapy, fighting most types of cancer. TILT boasts multiple best-in-class oncolytic viral therapies, and is aiming to become the leading company globally in oncolytic immunotherapy for enabling therapies based on T cells. Learn more about the company’s innovative approach, how it all got started and what motivated TILT’s founder Akseli Hemminki, a cancer clinician, to become a entrepreneur.
TILT Biotherapeutics raised some eyebrows in February 2023 as the clinical-stage biotechnology company announced the final close of its EUR 22 million round. Akseli Hemminki, the founder-CEO of the Helsinki-based company, acknowledges that while biotech investments abroad may be bigger, for a Finnish biotech player such a funding round is, indeed, a big deal.
“Overall, we’ve secured more than 40 million euros in funding during our ten years of operations – which is a lot for a Finnish company in this sector.”
What’s notable in this latest round is that it includes €5.9 million equity from the European Innovation Council (EIC) Fund – as well as a €2.1 million grant from EIC’s Accelerator program. The EIC Fund is, in fact, TILT’s first significant international investor.
But why is TILT Biotherapeutics making such big waves in the investment community? – The short answer: TILT is one of the rising superstars of oncolytic immunotherapy, fighting most types of cancer. The heart of TILT’s innovative approach is all about the use of armed oncolytic adenoviruses, using cytokines and other molecules to boost the patient’s immune response to better enable ‘Search & Destroy’ missions on cancer cells.
TILT is one of the rising superstars of oncolytic immunotherapy, fighting most types of cancer.
“We have our patented TILT technology – that is based on oncolytic viral therapies – which modifies the tumor microenvironment and eliminates its ability to suppress immune responses to cancer,” says Hemminki, a cancer clinician who has treated hundreds of cancer patients with oncolytic viruses.
“As a result, T cell therapies, such as checkpoint inhibitors and CAR T therapies, are enhanced.”
At present, TILT boasts multiple best-in-class oncolytic viral therapies.
“In our pipeline, we have our lead therapeutic asset, TILT-123, which is a cytokine armed oncolytic adenovirus,” Akseli Hemminki says.
TILT-123 is currently in Phase 1 clinical trials as monotherapy and in combination with tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) therapy in Europe. There are also two other open trials, Hemminki reports.
TILT boasts multiple best-in-class oncolytic viral therapies.
“One is a combination with pembrolizumab, a checkpoint inhibiting antibody. This is open in Finland and the US.”
Then there is a combination trial with avelumab, which is open in Finland.
“Our vision is to become the leading company globally in oncolytic immunotherapy for enabling therapies based on T cells. This way, we can provide potentially curative treatment options for cancer patients,” Hemminki outlines the game plan.
Photo: TILT Biotherapeutics team
Akseli Hemminki (born in 1973) certainly has an interesting resume – starting with the fact that he’s Professor of Oncology at the University of Helsinki as well as Founder & CEO of TILT – and still manages to treat patients a few hours a week.
Prior to founding TILT, he had co-founded Oncos Therapeutics Ltd (currently Targovax ASA), a company involved in the clinical development of oncolytic viruses.
“At Oncos, I wasn’t the CEO and eventually I started thinking about what it would be like to run my own company,” he looks back.
Having started TILT as a one-man-show in 2013, Hemminki now leads a team of 15 professionals – with definite international flavor.
“We have people from Portugal, Spain, Germany, Brazil, USA, England…,” he lists.
The origin story of TILT is also intriguing in the sense that it’s rooted in patient observation much more than is the case with your average health/biotech startup. During 2007–2012, Hemminki pioneered individualized patient-by-patient use of oncolytic immunotherapy under the EU Advanced Therapy Directive – personally treating 290 patients using 10 different oncolytic adenoviruses during those years.
“That’s when I really became convinced of the impact of the oncolytic viruses,” he says.
Hemminki is also an inventor on more than 10 patent applications relating to oncolytic viruses, including all of TILT’s patents and has authored nearly 370 peer-reviewed manuscripts or book chapters on cancer research and oncolytic viruses. Looking back at his career so far, he says that the key thing has always been people.
“Working with young, smart people is always very energizing.”
When you’re to avoid the outcome of death with treatment, that is just an amazing feeling.
Another motivating factor is the possibility to do good: the benefits to the patients are often literally life-saving.
“When you see the patient file with the prognosis of death and you’re able to avoid that outcome with treatment, that is just an amazing feeling.”
And then there’s the kick of being an entrepreneur – a role that Hemminki says has grown on him over the years.
“Being an entrepreneur is something you don’t learn in any school – you learn the ropes by putting your best effort in, every single day.”