“Based on its experience and strong presence in the academic landscape and start-up community, Gründerfonds Ruhr can quickly recognize the potential of a start-up idea. The fund’s close relationship to early-stage companies combined with its extensive network acts as a catalyst to establish direct contacts with suitable investors and partners, initiating tailored financing rounds and collaborations.”
– Marcus Kostka, CEO Abalos Therapeutics
Abalos Therapeutics was founded in 2019 by two brothers, Prof. Dr. Karl Lang and Prof. Dr. Philipp Lang, both experts in the field of immunology and virology. The company was conceptualized to translate their innovative research findings into novel cancer therapies. Cancer is still the second leading cause of death worldwide, with a high unmet medical need particularly in advanced and metastatic tumors. Karl and Philipp Lang identified a specific arenavirus species that preferentially replicates in tumor cells, eliciting a strong and targeted immune response from the body against cancer cells. Abalos Therapeutics uses this unique immune stimulation of arenaviruses to harness the full power of the entire immune system specifically against cancer cells – both primary tumors and metastases. Led by experienced biotech entrepreneurs and immunology pioneers, Abalos aims to achieve a quantum leap in immuno-oncology.
Abalos Therapeutics & Gründerfonds Ruhr – United to fight cancer
Initial Meeting and Objectives
Even before Abalos was founded, Marcus Kostka, the current CEO of Abalos, and Aristotelis Nastos from Gründerfonds Ruhr met each other as Board members for Rigontec GmbH (later acquired by MSD). Aristotelis Nastos initiated the first contact between Marcus Kostka and Karl and Philipp Lang, who had already developed the idea for Abalos based on their research results in the field of immunology and virology at the University of Düsseldorf and University of Duisburg-Essen. Marcus Kostka, who at that time worked as a partner at the renowned Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Funds (BIVF), used this opportunity to start his entrepreneurial journey in the life science industry. The academic spin-off thus became a joint founding company of Gründerfonds Ruhr and BIVF. The company launched as Abalos Therapeutics in October 2019 with a €12 million Series A financing. The financing round was led by Gründerfonds Ruhr and BIVF and included investments from Gründerfonds’ partners, NRW.BANK and High-Tech Gründerfonds (HTGF). Prior to this financing round, Gründerfonds Ruhr had already invested in the company as part of a seed financing and thus facilitated the successful Series A round.
The initial goal of the collaboration was a preclinical proof-of-concept validation of the company’s proprietary Fast Evolution platform as well as the identification of a first lead product candidate which should be expedited for clinical trials. In addition, it was planned to expand the entire team, both in management as well as in scientific and operational areas.
Support from Gründerfonds Ruhr
From the start of the collaboration, Gründerfonds Ruhr was instrumental in introducing Abalos to key investors and partners. Due to Gründerfonds’ extensive network, Abalos was able to win NRW.BANK and HTGF, among others, as new investors. By providing hands-on mentoring, Gründerfonds also enabled Abalos to navigate and address all fundraising process, business development as well as milestone challenges. Above all, Aristotelis Nastos, who himself has a scientific background and extensive expertise in the life science sector, acted as an intermediary between the founders and the investment consortium. Furthermore, he provided valuable support in the translation of science into biotechnical application. In addition, Gründerfonds also provided support on key operational issues, such as the search for suitable spaces to set up the laboratory and company.
As part of the jointly developed business plan, Abalos and Gründerfonds Ruhr conducted a comprehensive platform evaluation to unlock its full potential. As part of the defined business plan, the establishment of preclinical proof-of-concept data in animal models were an important milestone, which formed the basis for the identification of a lead candidate and its advancement into clinical testing. Through the company launch in course of the Series A financing, Abalos was able to attract a consortium of experienced life science and tech investors with its novel cancer therapy approach. The early-stage company thereby received increased visibility and positive feedback in the national as well as international biotech scene. Since then, Abalos has expanded its management team with experts in the areas of development and manufacturing of virus-based technologies, as well as strengthened its R&D team. Together, these achievements have brought Abalos closer to its goal of translating basic academic research into a new therapeutic product to fight cancer.
The close collaboration between the Abalos team, the company founders and Gründerfonds has established a strong and trustful relationship. With joined forces the team is working on the in-depth validation of the current product candidates, planning to broaden the pipeline and assessing strategies for future financing rounds. In this context, the definition of further milestones as well as the definition of value inflection points are important. In addition, the company intends to focus on completing the processes that will enable its development candidate to be tested in clinical trials. Thus, with the help of the Gründerfonds, Abalos is planning to reach the next turning points in its company history.