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University of Basel

21 February 2022

Aukera Therapeutics qualifies for BaseLaunch funding program

The founders of the spin-off Aukera Therapeutics: Dr. Dritan Liko and Dr. Stefan Imseng.
The founders of the spin-off Aukera Therapeutics: Dr. Dritan Liko and Dr. Stefan Imseng.

The spin-off Aukera Therapeutics, which was founded at the Biozentrum last year, has been selected for the start-up accelerator program BaseLaunch. The biotech company develops novel therapies for patients suffering from mTOR related diseases such as cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. mTOR plays a key role in cell growth control.

With its qualification for the BaseLaunch Accelerator Program, Aukera Therapeutics receives funding of up to 500,000 Swiss francs as well as business development support. This includes strategic and individual advice also on legal aspects and access to BaseLaunch program infrastructure and network.

"We are thrilled that our newly founded start-up has been selected to join the BaseLaunch portfolio," says Stefan Imseng, one of the two young entrepreneurs. "It also confirms that we are on the right track with our therapeutic approach." With Aukera Therapeutics, a total of 18 companies have received funding through BaseLaunch.

Novel classes of drugs to treat mTOR related disorders

Dr. Stefan Imseng and Dr. Dritan Liko, who both have worked as scientists at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel, founded the biotech start-up Aukera Therapeutics last autumn. The young entrepreneurs are searching for compounds for the treatment of disorders related to a malfunctioning protein complex mTORC1 including specific types of cancer, rare diseases and neurodegenerative disorders.

The abbreviation mTORC1 refers to a protein complex that centrally controls cell growth and metabolism. “Given its central role, it is no surprise that deregulation of mTORC1 leads to many diseases, constituting a rather large patient population that could benefit for mTORC1 targeting drugs,” emphasizes Imseng. More importantly, there is a great unmet medical need for new drugs that selectively inhibit mTORC1 as the currently approved mTOR inhibitors cause numerous adverse side effects due to their lack of selectivity upon chronic administration.

This is where the idea of the two young entrepreneurs comes in. They founded Aukera Therapeutics to develop a new class of drugs that selectively inhibit upregulated mTORC1 signaling to reestablish cell and tissue homeostasis. "With the funding from BaseLaunch, we can now further develop our most promising drug candidates," says Liko. "The next step is to test our lead compounds in terms of efficacy, selectivity and toxicity in different model systems. As a start-up, we can bring external partners on board for this test phase and also for later clinical trials." The company emerged from the research groups of the mTOR experts Prof. Michael N. Hall and Prof. Timm Maier at the Biozentrum and was supported by the Innovation Office of the University of Basel.

BaseLaunch promotes early-stage biotech companies

The BaseLaunch funding program was launched in 2017 as an initiative of Basel Area Business & Innovation, the innovation promotion and investment promotion agency for the Basel region, with the aim of strengthening Basel's start-up scene and supporting ambitious young entrepreneurs with innovative ideas. The focus of the funding is on early-stage biotech companies with therapeutic products based on solid and highly innovative science that have a committed team and can demonstrate initial efficacy of their approach. BaseLaunch's private partners include Roche, BB Pureos Bioventures, Roivant Sciences, Bridge Biotherapeutics, CSL Behring and Johnson & Johnson.

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