Flamingo Therapeutics’ RNA-targeted approach could be game changer in fighting cancer

(10-09-2021) Ghent University spin-off Flamingo Therapeutics could be a game changer in cancer treatment with an RNA-targeted approach. They have expanded their alliance with Ionis Pharmaceuticals for new treatments of untreatable cancers.

Flamingo Therapeutics, founded by VIB, KU Leuven, Ghent University, and the University of Michigan, and investors Kurma Partners (FR) and PMV, is pioneering RNA-targeted therapies for oncology with state-of-the-art chemistries. The scientific teams broke new ground on non-coding RNA genes in cancer and were among the first to show a role for lncRNAs as disease drivers in oncology. Today, Flamingo announced that it has expanded its relationship with US company Ionis Pharmaceuticals to further develop RNA-targeted therapies.

Scientists led by Professor Jean-Christophe Marine (VIB-KU Leuven) and Professor Pieter Mestdagh (Cancer Research Institute Ghent (CRIG), Ghent University) have been studying the link between cancer and a specific form of RNA, called long non-coding RNA (lncRNA), for years. In 2016, these research teams have revealed a remarkable link between certain lncRNAs and malignant melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer. One of those lncRNA molecules was named SAMMSON and was found to be crucial for the growth of aggressive skin cancers. The results of the research were published in the leading scientific journal Nature.  

These RNAs are increasingly being associated to cancer but have not been explored as therapeutic targets in cancer yet. It’s really exciting to see the development of targeted long non-coding RNA therapies unfolding,' tells professor Pieter Mestdagh, principal investigator at the Cancer Research Insitute Ghent (CRIG) and Ghent University, and co-founder of Flamingo Therapeutics. 

'It’s really exciting to see the development of targeted long non-coding RNA therapies unfolding.' Pieter Mestdagh, principal investigator at the Cancer Research Insitute Ghent (CRIG) and Ghent University, and co-founder of Flamingo Therapeutics

Together with the pioneering research of Professor Arul Chinnaiyan at the University of Michigan (USA), this work opened up promising avenues for cancer treatment. In 2020, VIB, together with Ghent University, KU Leuven, the University of Michigan, and with investors Kurma Partners (FR) and PMV, founded Flamingo Therapeutics to develop innovative cancer therapies based on these insights. 

The alliance with Ionis Pharmaceuticals leverages Flamingo's oncology and lncRNA expertise combined with Ionis' expertise in development of RNA therapeutics. Flamingo's pipeline expands with three clinical programs from Ionis, and a preclinical lncRNA program. Rob MacLeod, former VP of Oncology Research & Development at Ionis, joins the Flamingo management team as Chief Scientific Officer. This alliance is an expansion of an existing collaboration with Ionis on Flamingo’s FLAME™ discovery engine, following Flamingo’s Series A financing in 2020.