Mark Esposito of Kang Lab receives funding from NJ Health Foundation

Grants, Fellowships and Awards
Posted on September 16, 2019

At this year's BIO International convention held in Philadelphia, Princeton University, the New Jersey Health Foundation (NJHF) and Kayothera celebrated the Foundation’s seed funding of the Princeton spinout company.

Kayothera, an early-stage therapeutics company and Princeton University spinout, is working to give hope to some of the most vulnerable cancer patients. Now the company’s aspirations are being bolstered by significant seed funding received from the New Jersey Health Foundation (NJHF). This is the first sizable deal under a framework established by NJHF and Princeton University.

Kayothera is developing therapies to treat late-stage and metastatic cancers, including breast, lung, pancreatic, colorectal, brain, and kidney cancers. Currently, prospects for patients facing such diseases are grim: These cancers are fairly resistant to current chemotherapy and pharmaceutical companies have found it difficult and challenging to pursue new treatments.

But discoveries made in the laboratory of Princeton University Professor Yibin Kang point to novel approaches to overcome the defenses of cancer cells. Kang, the Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of Molecular Biology, and Mark Esposito, a postdoctoral research associate in the Kang lab, have cofounded Kayothera to pursue the development of therapies based on the Kang lab work.

According to Professor Kang, Kayothera’s lead programs have considerable biological validation. “Genetic and pharmacological studies in my laboratory have identified and validated a family of key enzymes that protect cancer cells under stressful conditions, such as metastasis, drug treatment and attack by the immune system.  The development of small molecule inhibitors against these enzymes will potentially improve the efficacy of chemotherapy and immunotherapy against advanced cancers.”

The company presented the type of opportunity to make a difference that the New Jersey Health Foundation had in mind when it worked with Princeton University to create a funding framework last fall: The two organizations share a goal to accelerate the progress of Princeton-related life-science innovation toward real-world impact.

 “The mission of the New Jersey Health Foundation is to promote the advancement of health-related research and education throughout the state,” said George F. Heinrich, M.D., Vice Chair and CEO. “We are excited that our funding will advance Kayothera’s research to help address some of the toughest challenges in cancer therapy with the ultimate goal of extending patient lives. We hope this is the first of many opportunities we have to support the progress of Princeton research toward real-world impact.”

Mark Esposito, Kayothera CEO, laid out the company’s next steps and what the funding means to the company. “This partnership with NJHF enables us to move our two therapeutic programs from basic scientific discovery to clinical development. Ultimately, this is an investment in improving the quality of life of patients and giving hope to those affected by terminal cancer diagnoses.”

The Princeton University Office of Technology Licensing (OTL) and Office of Corporate Engagement and Foundation Relations (CEFR) worked with the New Jersey Health Foundation to establish the original funding framework. CEFR and OTL also provided assistance for the Kayothera agreement. Both offices are part of the University’s Office of the Dean for Research. Inquiries from Princeton faculty and related companies regarding possible funding under the NJHF umbrella should be directed to Dean Edelman, CEFR life sciences lead, and Anthony Williams, OTL New Ventures Associate.